HOPE – movie review

HOPE (Håp)
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maria Sødahl
Writer: Maria Sødahl
Cast: Andrea Bræin Hovig, Stellan Skarsgård, Elli Müller Osborne, Alfred Vatne Brean
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/14/21
Opens: 93RD Academy Awards Candidate Best International Film. Spring 2021 TBD.

Image result for hope movie poster norway

Don’t expect a miraculous cure like the one that Queen Latifah’s character Georgia Byrd is given in “Last Holiday” under a cancer diagnosis. She goes to a posh hotel in the Czech Republic to live it up in her final weeks only to discover that the diagnosis was a mistake. That’s comedy for ya. There is some hope, just some, in “Hope,” Maria Sødahl’s drama of a woman who likely has three months to live, but not really much. After all, this is Norway, and Scandinavia is the home of Ingmar Bergman. Could it be that these people are depicted in so many movies as folks who don’t like to laugh if they can help it?

Norwegian-born writer-director Sødahl’s recent movie “Limbo,” about a woman who moves to Trinidad with her kids and discovers that her husband has had affairs, is only slightly related to the theme in “Hope,” principally the part about an affair. Mostly, this latest contribution, which is Norway’s candidate for Best International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards celebration, is about an unusual relationship, a partnership between Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) and Anja (Andrea Bræn Hovig). Both are theater people. She is a dancer and he a theater director, so it’s not unusual to find her executing some choreography in the film’s happiest segment—right at the start. It’s downhill from there as Anja complains of constant headache, sleeplessness, blurred vision to find that the lung cancer that was treated not long ago had metastasized to her brain.

Norwegian socialized medicine being what it is (sorry Bernie), the specialists are all off for the Christmas holidays, so Anja has to suffer the anxiety of an indefinite prognosis. She’s on a powerful steroid meanwhile, which makes her jumpy and particularly sensitive to the callousness of her husband, whose kids from his previous marriage and those from her partnership with him make this a big family affair. Little irritations add up, such as her partner’s inviting guests for Christmas lunch without consulting her.

The partners question how to break the news to the kids, who are of various ages, though she does confess to her best friend Vera (Gojertrud Louis Kynge) who has promised to help take care of the kids if “something should happen” to Anja. Aside from family matters, her two conferences with doctors show different degrees of sensitivity. One tells her not to try experimental treatments such as are found in the U.S. but instead to live it up like the aforementioned Georgia Byrd. The neurosurgeon, said to be the best in the business, wants to go through with the operation on January 2nd, which sets the mood for Anja and Tomas’s discussion about whether to marry on New Year’s Eve. This sets the stage for the film’s major conflict: Anja on the one hand explodes that she should have left Tomas long ago. On the other hand, she is desperate for a closer union with her partner at this time of great stress. Emotional discussions follow between Anja and the children and Anja with Tomas, more than had taken place in all the previous years.

This is a film with a soundtrack that is happily free of Hollywood-style soundtracks to allow a few classical pieces to have a strong effect on the audience. The performances of Skarsgård and Hovig, each having characteristics of both angels and sinners, make this a film that is far from being a saccharine Hallmark offering or a TV disease-of the-week venture. You come away with the feeling that everything taking place in the story is authentic. This is the way mature adults are likely to compress the rest of their lives into days of their most intense distress.

126 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

FALLING – movie review

FALLING
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Viggo Mortensen
Writer: Viggo Mortensen
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henricksen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/23/21
Opens: February 5, 2021

Poster

This is one of those rare movies that have their writers sitting in the director’s chair as well, taking a major role, even playing some chords on the piano to punctuate the difficulty of his life. In other words, “Falling” has more than a touch of autobiography: Mortensen imaging and re-imaging his life under the rule of his father who, having looked at the baby he helped create greeting him not with “say dadda” but “I’m sorry I brought you into this world. To die.” We can only wonder how the little one was able not only to survive his daddy’s acerbic personality but why this baby, later on in life, would cater to almost every whim of the dad whose temper could burst forth at any time and whose progressive dementia would turn him into a fierce, cantankerous fool who not only brought a baby into the word to die but would regularly describe his two ex-wives as whores.

Though Mortensen has one of the two lead roles, the film belongs to Lance Henriksen, with a résumé of some 260 roles (including seven that would come out at about the same time as “Falling” and a stack of others continuing the career). Though Henricksen has performed mostly as a character actor, ranging from roles as a clean-cut FBI agent, a vampire or two, a psychotic motorcycle gang leader, his performance in “Falling” may be his meatiest, one that finds the actor who has now passed his eightieth year in full command of his craft.

Half the film’s time takes place forty years earlier with young Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) giving hints of a growing misanthropy and the other half featuring Willis (Lance Henriksen) at his present age of eighty. “Falling” is a film about family dysfunction that shows Willis’s middle-aged son John Peterson (Viggo Mortensen) selflessly taking care of the crotchety old man despite the latter’s insistence that “this is my house and if you don’t like it you can leave.”

Perhaps the most humorous scene, albeit one that you would hardly find funny if you were a passenger in the same plane, old Willis is being escorted from his upstate New York farm to California, ostensibly to find a place to live as he is now unable to take care of his farm. With behavior that makes you wonder when the airline crew would pitch Willis from the emergency exit, the old man believes the passenger cabin to be nothing more than his upstate New York farmhouse, his wife patiently awaiting him upstairs. This leads him into the kind of loud, vulgar emissions, his son John obviously embarrassed but assuring the crew that he will be OK.

The less conflicted part of the film, or at least the scenes with forty-year-old Willis doting like his wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) on their four-year-old son John (Grady McKenzie). Even at that age, a macho Willis takes the lad hunting; when little John shoots and kills a duck, Willis is happy to let him keep the dead bird, bathe it, sleep with it, until they allow Gwen to pluck the feathers and cook it.

But those salad days are now gone. Old Will is not only dismissive of the two wives he chased away, but has all the grotesque features of our last White House resident. He is disgusted that his son is gay, married to Eric (Terry Chen), the latter understanding that Willis’s dementia is talking. Yet John has no problem escorting his dad to a museum where Willis, gazing at a Picasso, tells his granddaughter Monica that “You can draw that.” If you look for nuance on this raging gaffer, you will find it only in his behavior toward young Monica.

How to explain John’s tolerance of his dad? He may think of the time his dad back took him hunting, let him play with the duck he shot, and ultimately, when John at 16 (William Healy) simply could not shoot the deer in his telescopic sights, was comforted with a pat on the shoulder and the statement, “It’s OK.”

We are told that Viggo Mortensen acted in the film he wrote and directed only to win financing. But this Renaissance man, an accomplished pianist, fluent in many languages having lived in Denmark, Spain and Argentina and able to speak English like a lifelong Californian, does the incomparable job of making the audience understand and accept his ability to tolerate behavior that would send most of us running.

112 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS – movie review

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, Iain Reid, based on Iain Reid’s book of the same title.
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Hadley Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: September 4, 2020

A surreal film associated with Charlie Kaufman’s wild imagination comes from a director whose “Anomalisa” hones in on a man who cannot continue tolerating his mundane life, whose “Synecdoche New York” find a man’s creating a life-size warehouse of New York City, and whose script for “Being John Malkovich” lauds a puppeteer who finds a portal leading into the head of the title actor. All are works of a fervent imagination, but perhaps no other film of his has issued such a large amount of moviegoer puzzlement than “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”

With that as the case, here is a disclaimer. This is my interpretation, one that may be attacked by critics and normal people as too easy; that Kaufman must be traveling a larger road.

Here is a way to think about the picture. Many say that folks on their deathbeds asked for their regrets will never say “I wish I had more time to spend in the office.” Real regrets are far more serious, as illustrated by this film. Here, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd), a man who is surprisingly well read for someone in his low-skilled trade, may be facing his mortality. He puts down the mop, casts aside the pail, and, being the only character in the hallway of a large high school, he has the time to reflect.

Some of his regrets may be strictly a segment of his imagination. I believe that, allowing for some embellishment, his thoughts run to actual events in his life, something like those of Guido Anselme in Federico’s 1963 classic “8 ½” who retreats into his memories and fantasies. In his younger days he probably dated a number of women, all of whom congeal into the shape of Lucy (Jessie Buckley), or Lucia, or Young Woman. To prove that she is a composite, she is introduced as a painter, a poet, a physicist. The janitor, now in the guise of young Jake (Jesse Plemons), is driving his girlfriend Lucy to the farmhouse of his parents, Mother (Toni Collette) and Father (David Thewlis). It’s a long drive, it’s snowing heavily, the wind is biting. It’s the kind of night that may be part of Jake’s imagination, because what woman is willing to take her chances in such inclement weather when the trip could have been set for another day? What’s more, this may be the last time Lucy sees Jake, her boyfriend for only a few weeks, though he is a man who is mostly self-educated as shown by the books and movies in his childhood room. He is able to discuss Wordsworth and analyze any 19th century poem.

She is smart and well educated, able to respond to him. You might think, then, that they would wind up marrying but though Lucy sees Jake properly as an intelligent person, a nice guy, he is stiff, a bore, a man who probably could not see himself laughing out loud at a joke or telling one himself. Furthermore Jake’s folks are a bizarre couple. Mother laughs too loud and too long. Lucy reports that “Jake told me a lot about you.” She replies, “And you’re willing to come anyway Ha ha ha ha!” Father takes a lesser role in the conversations but like Mother, he disappears into old age and back again, while Mother in one scene is on her bed, wrinkled, taking her last breaths or already dead.

Since much of the movie is a road trip filled with both high-level and vapid conversation, we get to meet three women tending an ice cream bar, two bimbos and one who advises Lucy to “go forward.” In a scene near the conclusion, Jake is thanking everyone in a theater audience for being part of his life, including Lucy, above all, who now appears decades older, and even the bimbos from the ice cream shop are in attendance.

Some moviegoers might say, if this is a dream, I can tell you a weird one I had myself last night. But though fantasies hover around the truths, these are actual people in his life, important ones, also those he conversed with for only minutes. However, what makes “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on a quality level of classics like “8 1/2” aside from the script, the prescient editing, the spot-on direction, is the performance of Jessie Buckley, who dazzles throughout. She has wowed the movie audience playing Queen Victoria with authenticity in Stephen Gaghan’s “Doolittle,” a troubled woman controlled by her family while at the same time fascinated by a man who could be a killer in Michael Pearce’s “Beast,” and a major role in Rupert Goold’s “Judy.” Her dynamic range includes song, as shown in Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose,” as a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country music star in Nashville.

With such talent all around, it’s no wonder that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is my choice, so far, as best movie of the year, with Buckley as best actress.

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

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

UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN – movie review

UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN (En attendant les hirondelles)
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karim Moussaoui
Screenwriter: Karim Moussaoui, Maud Ameline
Cast: Mohamed Djourhi, Sonia Mekkiou, Mehdi Ramdani, Hania Amar, Hassan Kachach
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/20/20
Opens: April 28, 2020

Until The Birds Return (2017) Movie Review from Eye for Film

An intriguing first feature by Karim Moussaoui filmed in Algeria is an eye-opener, not the least because it gives us in the West a picture of a country that some of us believe to be merely developing. Instead, by opening up parts of the country via a road trip, we can see well-built highways albeit with a lack of traffic that could make Angelenos turning green with envy. The three stories are only slightly connected, an Altmanesque format is not used, but through a look at three generations of Algerians, we get a picture of a place that few of us here in the U.S. have visited (Morocco gets the lion’s share of the Mahreb’s tourism). In fact much of what we see indulges scenes that I thought would be censored by the Algerian government, showing the cavorting of men and women, the latter taking off their hijabs and shaking up their hair and their hips, which would be obviously condemned by any Saudi official. The freedom exhibited here is mighty refreshing.

The middle story is easily the most interesting, as Moussaoui and his co-writer Maud Ameline appear merely to be warming us up for the delicious tale to come. But first: Mourad (Mohamed Djourhri) is a builder whose problems are not so much with his professional life but with family hassles. His ex-wife Lila (Sonie Mekkious), whom he visits in order to see his son, pressures him to motivate their son to become a doctor, but the lad cannot be budged. At the same time his second wife (Aure Atika) is fed up with Algeria and wants to return to France. In addition, on the road Mourad gets a flat tire and, in a dark, remote area he witnesses a man being beaten “to a pulp,” as he puts it to Lila, who criticizes him for not reporting the action to the police—even when he is safely home.

Better luck comes to Djali (Mehdi Ramdani), Mourad’s employee, who gets a few days off to drive a neighbor to a wedding, though he and Aïcha (Hania Amar), had been secret lovers. Aïcha is in no mood to celebrate the upcoming nuptials to “a good man,” so when her father takes ill and must be hospitalized overnight, he entrusts Djali to drive his daughter to place to spend the night, paying him to get separate rooms at a hotel for the night. Taking a break from the driving, Djali walks behind her and is repelled as though dealing with a woman playing hard to get, but lust will out. When they enter an empty bar, the musicians strike up a vigorous tune. A seductive Aïcha asks Djali to dance, and while waiting for him to make up his mind, she proceeds to shed inhibitions in the film’s most exciting part. Like a Greek chorus, a large group of dancers and musicians follow the two back to their car.

Shades of Harvey Weinstein in the final episode, as Dahman (Hassan Kachach), a neurologist intent on a promotion to a hospital directorship, is caught up in an accusation. The woman (Nadia Kaci) has spent months looking for the physician whom she is accusing of rape during a time that a group of terrorists during the Algeria’s sectarian war of the 1990s subjected her to gang rape. He threatens her, but she sits, confidently crosses her legs, and insists that he is guilty. What’s more she has an autistic son in the rickety house. The doctor is charged not with taking part in the rape but in doing nothing to stop the men. (This is a possible reference to the incident with Mourad in the opener who refuses to call the police upon witnessing a beating.)

Among the happier moments in a generally somber tale the doctor, who is marrying a much younger woman, takes part in a wedding dance to the accompaniment of a large group of enthusiastic guests. Among the good qualities of the movie is that aside from the time that music is actually needed as part of the action, “Until the Birds Return” avoids Hollywood movies’ often intrusive music in the soundtrack.

In Arabic and French with English subtitles.

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

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

MY SON – movie review

MY SON (Mon garçon)
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christian Carion
Screenwriter: Christian Carion, Laure Irmann
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Mélanie Laurent, Olivier de Benoist, Antoine Hamel, Mohamed Brikat
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/25/19
Opens: May 10, 2019

Mon garçon Movie Poster

Have you noticed how critics and some normal moviegoers put a large emphasis on credibility? Do you believe this story? Look at all the plot holes! Of course if you’re talking about Marvel Studio outputs, nobody expects anything like real life. For me, an action movie—a kidnapping film such as “My Son”– may make you wonder about things like “How did the hero locate the bad guys? How does a father looking for his seven-year-old son manage to take on kidnappers with just a golf club when the villains are armed? There’s a lot in “Mon garçon,” as the French call the picture, to make you wonder about all this, and the movie risks unintentional audience laughter. But there are saving graces. First are the edge-of-the-seat action sequences. Second is the skill of Guillaume Cant in the role of Julien, the largely absentee father who is not “there” for his son, to the dismay of his ex-wife Marie (Mélanie Laurent).

This looks like an actor’s exercise, actor, singular, as Guillaume (pronounced GEE ahm) Canet, who is having a busy year, opening soon as a vindictive editor in Olivier Assaysas’ talky “Non-Fiction.”

Christian Carion may want it known that “My Son” was filmed in six days with his principal performer in the dark about the movie’s plot. Carion, who picked up an Oscar nomination for his “Joyeux Noel,” about how an unofficial Christmas truce allows soldiers on both sides of the trenches in World War 1 to socialize for a short time, in this film focuses not on large casts but really on one guy. Director Carion, who co-wrote the script with Laure Irmann in her sophomore writing project, hones in on Julien’s guilt. He had been abroad most of the year for dangerous assignments in the Middle East and Africa forgetting that he is a dad, and, as his ex tells him, “Mathys (Lino Papa) needs a father.”

So what does she do? She takes up with one Grégoire (Olivier de Benoist), who stupidly “rubs it in” to his girlfriend’s ex by talking all about how he will sell the house belonging to Julien and Marie and move together with little Mathys to a place in the sticks. Needless to say, when the seven-year-old disappears from camp, you can’t blame Julien for considering Greg to be the prime suspect.

Most of the picture finds Julien crying, overwhelmed by guilt, yelled at by his beautiful wife (who wants to go to the Middle East and Senegal when you have everything you need at home?), and heading off in search of the abductors. After knocking Grégoire out, he heads out to discover a man with an intermediate role in the abduction, burns his feet with a blowtorch and threatens to fix the guy’s face in a climactic moment of violence.

“My Son,” then, has a passable story, considerable action (as opposed to Canet’s performance in the “Non-Fiction” talkathon), and nice scenery caught by DP Eric Dumont as Julien races to find his boy.

In French, English subtitles.

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

Story – C+
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

WHAT THEY HAD – movie review

WHAT THEY HAD

Bleecker Street
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Elizabeth Chomko
Screenwriter:  Elizabeth Chomko
Cast:  Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Taissa Farmiga, Josh Lucas, Marilyn Dodds Frank, William Smillie
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 10/10/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
What They Had Movie Poster
There’s a reason that 65% of registered voters in the U.S. will not go to the polls for this all-important mid-term election, or at least this is so if we go by history.  We’re too busy with family squabbles, maybe earning a paycheck which adjusted for inflation has not risen in decades, to care all that much about Iran, North Korea, and our present dysfunctional White House.  Elizabeth Chomko may be on to something in reflecting the lives of three generations in “What They Had” (whatever that means).  The director, who has a longer resume as an actress than a director (this is her freshman project) does show possibilities for further work in the director’s chair, but “What They Had,” a look at a dysfunctional family brought under one roof to argue what should be done with the ailing family matriarch, is a soap opera.  It’s a classy one, but still a soap.  It does have superb performances from an array of top actors going for it, but that’s enough to shake off potential audience ennui given its tiresome script.  It might also get young people in the audience—the few that would attend a movie with a concentration of older, more mature performers—to rethink whether they even want a family.

Though at first we might expect the story to focus on Ruth (Blythe Danner), taking a breath from her commercial for Prolia, which she says can strengthen bones and relieve arthritis. The Alzheimer focus becomes secondary to a free-for-all of family squabbles, none of which is either original or compelling.

Set in a large Chicago-area brownstone occupied by Burt (Robert Forster) and Ruth, “What They Had” brings in Bridget Ertz (Hilary Swank) one woman from flies from California ready to break into tears (as she eventually does) because of her stale marriage to Eddy (Josh Lucas).  She kvetches that she was pushed into wedlock by her dad who figured he was more than good enough for her.  For his part Nicky (Michael Shannon), who bought a bar and tends it, is not meeting his potential according to father Burt.  Young Emma Ertz (Taissa Farmiga) is super unhappy in her freshman year of college, her mother Bridget clueless about how her daughter feels. Mom is called upon, in effect, to allow her to drop out.

The principal conflict pits Nicky against his dad, Burt. Nicky wants to send her mentally ailing mom to a facility that could take care of her but Burt, a former Marine now suffering a heart condition, insists that she can do best by staying just where she is.  Never mind that they had to send out a posse to rescue her after she walked in the snow and took a commuter train out of town.

You can do better by renting “Away From Her,” Sarah Polley’s trenchant, yet humorous look at a woman hospitalized for Alzheimer’s, who transfers her affections from husband to a fellow resident at the center.  “What They Had” has a terrific ensemble of actors but they can’t overcome the weakness of the soapy script.

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

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

BOUNDARIES – movie review

BOUNDARIES

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shana Feste
Screenwriter:  Shana Feste
Cast:  Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis McDougall, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Schaal, Dolly Wells, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Fonda
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 6/6/18
Opens: June 22, 2018
Boundaries
The characters in Shana Feste’s “Boundaries” give you the feeling that the worst thing that can happen to a person is to not fit in.  This applies to a Henry (Lewis MacDougall), who is expelled from high school for drawing nude picture, particularly one of his principal; to Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga), a single mother who cannot adapt to her father’s behavior or to her ex-husband’s; to Jack Jaconi (Christopher Plummer), who is too creative and independent and even criminal-minded to fit in with his nursing home and has been expelled from there.  (Why would he need a nursing home, anyway)? The three people go on a road trip not necessarily with the goal of becoming buddies, but wouldn’t you know that’s exactly what happens?  This means that “Boundaries” is not an original, but is rather a conventional family tale, but what performances!  Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer have the spotlight, though what they have to say to each other per Shana Feste’s script, is not extraordinary, but it’s how they say it that makes “Boundaries” a movie that should be seen.

Jack, then, is not a typical father or grandpa.  He is released from his nursing home after several infractions and at the age of 85 (Plummer is 88 making him the oldest actor to get an Oscar nomination), and after trying to call his daughter Laura without success shows up at Laura’s home.  Though he was too selfish to stay around to get to know his grandson Henry, he is such a charmer that Laura cannot resist driving him to a future home.  Grandson and daughter discover that he is a drug dealer with a marijuana stash worth $200,000.  He accompanies his family on a drive from Portland to L.A. with a plan to drop Jack at the home of his other daughter JoJo (Kriste Schaal), and on the way do what people do in road-and-buddy movies.  They see people, all goofy individuals, including Laura’s ex-husband Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), Jack’s buddies Stanley (Christopher Lloyd) and Joey (Peter Fonda), the latter being Jack’s rich buyer of weed.

Writer-director Shana Feste is in her métier, having made films like “The Greatest” (a troubled teen girl) and “Endless Love” (parents try to break up a love between their privileged daughter and her new boyfriend). For his part, Christopher Plummer, fresh from his role as J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” as a billionaire too selfish to pay a ransom for his grandson, modifies that narcissism here by being simply a guy who did not hang around to see to his daughter’s upbringing.

A bunch of neurotics, one and all, make “Boundaries” a film that would probably be too unconventional to be labeled a sit-com and of value especially to a potential audience that is unaware of just how terrific Vera Farmiga can be. Sara Mishara shot the film in scenic British Columbia.

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

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

BACK TO BURGUNDY – movie reveiw

BACK TO BURGUNDY (Ce qui nous lie)

Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Cédric Klapisch
Screenwriter:  Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena
Cast:  Po Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 314/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

I don’t “get” wine.  I wish I could because wine raises HDL, the good cholesterol.  Beer does that as well, but I don’t “get” beer either.  In a blindfold test, I would take Welch’s Grape Juice over a $1,560 bottle of 1986 Chateau LaFite Rothschild, notwithstanding the latter’s  deep color, medium body, a graceful, harmonious texture, superb length and its penetrating fragrance of cedar, chestnuts, minerals, and rich fruit. So wine provides a good living for many who cultivate it, as we see from “Back to Burgundy,” but money isn’t everything.  Relationships: that’s the key to the good life. And that appears the overriding theme of “Ce qui nous lie,” the original French title which means roughly “What Moves Him.”

Director Cédric Klapisch may be best known to cinephiles for “L’auberge espagnole, which thrusts a young, innocent economics student into Barcelona ostensibly to brush up his Spanish but serves as an initiation to life as he mixes with a diverse array of foreign students.  “Back to Burgundy” has a large cast serving as a background to development, folks who go to a vineyard around Burgundy to pick grapes during the harvest and who in one scene have one the most spirited parties recorded in the cinema—calling out “wine, wine, wine!” while banging on the table.

You can’t go home again might have been in the co-writer-director’s mind when he focuses primarily on a mid-thirties man, Jean (Pio Marmaï), who left the vast vineyard for Australia, marrying one Alicia (María Valverde) there,leaving behind an aggrieved couple of siblings: his sister Juliette (Ana Girardot) and his brother Jérémie (François Civil).  Jérémie and Juliette are particularly angry that the wanderer left them behind to care for the land and, later, for their sick father.  They cannot understand why he did not return to Burgundy for their mother’s funeral (he has a valid reason) and, as in many families with some dysfunction, he does not believe his father cared much for him.  When the native returns, bearing news of his changed status from the antipodes, he is met at first with hostility, giving him the job of reconnecting with brother and sister after a decade way.

The complexity of relationships finds twenty-something Jérémie living away from home with a successful winemaker who may remind you of Trump, as Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) wants to buy some of the land to build an airport, a spa, and general tourist facilities.  When the three heirs to the land receive a sizable inheritance tax bill, they ponder whether to sell all for $6 million or sell parts to raise the money they need.  This runs counter to tradition: you don’t give up property that has been in the family for decades.

The cinematography is a strong point, some of the scene captured with a drone.  This is a story that leans toward epic complexities but embracing easy-to-define ups and downs of the three siblings.  Typical American moviegoers, however, as opposed to critics and highbrows, might prefer the more informal inputs and recognizable characters from a movie like Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” as those characters are on merely a trip through California wine country without all the complications of ironing out the wrinkles of a partnership when the decision to sell needs the unanimous votes of the three owners.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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