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+