#FEMALE PLEASURE – movie review


Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barbara Miller
Screenwriter: Barbara Miller
Cast: Deborah Feldman, Leyla Hussein, Rokudenashiko, Doris Wagner, Yithika Yadav
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

#Female Pleasure (2018)

During the Age of Aquarius in America, Joan Baez would sing “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband for the rest of her life.” You might not think that in free America—as compared, for example with Saudi Arabia—that women have it so bad, but of course there’s room even in our country before we can declare the two sexes absolutely equal. Things are worse, then, in some parts of the world, and Barbara Miller, who wrote and directs “#Female Pleasure,” takes us around the globe from Brooklyn to Japan to India and to the UK and to Italy, where women activists are challenging the rules enforced upon them by religion or by culture. You come away with the impression that Karl Marx was right in saying that religion was invented by men to keep women down–though he could add repressive cultures in general.

The Swiss director hones in on five women, capturing their legitimate beefs through both the interview format and through observing them living their lives. In one case she indicts entire societies in discussing the evil practice of FGM, or female genital mutilation, in which babies, really, five-year-old girls, are held down and have their clitoris cut out so that they cannot feel sexual pleasure. Strangely, though, the women do not explain why this is done. Presumably this is to prevent women from straying from their husbands. In other cases, religion, which of course is part of a culture, is indicted, interpreted by men to pronounce themselves superior to women and to exploit them for their own satisfaction.

The woman whose story meant the most for me was Deborah Feldman, as I had read her book “Unorthodox,” there describing her view of the Hasidic religious sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was one of the few who actually left, taking off on her own, living in Greenwich Village, her book describing her dismal view of the highly Orthodox people who do not allow women to choose their mates. (I think she did a disservice on those pages in which she tells all, describing the sexual practices of her ex-husband which must have humiliated him.) Feldman is seen driving her son inside the Hasidic community, asking him whether she should return to the fold and getting the obvious answer from the young man, “Let’s get out.” And that’s a male talking! We see films of Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, where the residents post large signs about respecting the local culture. Women are told to dress modestly—long sleeve shirts, skirts down about her ankles, though what Feldman could have added is that tourists who walk through the community with outfits that the residents consider immodest are spat upon, the women addressed as whores.

At least nobody in the Hasidic culture favors FGM. The bizarre custom of cutting a woman’s genitals when she is but a small child occurs largely in North Africa—Egypt, Somalia, for example, but also in Kenya. We hear from Leyla Hussein, who had the procedure forced on her. Like Feldman, she ultimately escaped the repressiveness by moving to the UK. At the very least she has convinced women in the expate Somali community to the anti-FGM cause, and when she visited the Masai in Kenya, learning that these women too had been mutilated, she gets their pledge not to do the same to their own daughters. As for the view that, hey, men, too are mutilated by some cultures by having their foreskins removed, she counters that the equivalent would be to have their entire penises removed.

Rokudenashiko, the nickname of manga artist Megumi Igarashi which means “good for nothing,” put vaginas in her cartoons for which she was arrested, tried, and acquitted of that charge, but she was convicted for making 3D images of the vagina, creating necklaces, iPhone cases and even a kayak using her own vulva as the design.

Miller also gives time to Doris Wagner, a German nun who claims that she was raped more than once by a priest, though we wonder why she would remain in the convent after a single instance, particularly since her charge was not taken seriously. She had written to Pope Francis, receiving no response, and is now a free woman who loves pop songs which, unlike what she heard in the convent deals with real human emotions.

Vithika Yadav, a feminist activist in India, makes us aware that the government in India appears not to take rape seriously, thinking, perhaps, that “Boys will be boys.” A street demonstration cast with men sympathetic to her cause reenacts the humiliation that women go through.

Some might say that the film is “all over the place,” since it deals with a variety of themes from genital mutilation to arranged marriage, but all falls under the umbrella of ways that women are not valued as much as are men, looked upon—except by me and you—as nothing more than baby-making machines whose pleasure is considered unimportant by men. If you are “woke,” i.e. socially aware, you know and rejects the attitude of male supremacy unearthed by this fascinating trip around the globe. Even so, you will be attentive to the sharp visuals in Jiro Akiba, Gabriela Betschart and Anne Misselwitz’s photography.

The film garnered awards and nominations at film festivals in Locarno, Leipzig, Austria and Thessalonika.

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

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

FAST COLOR – movie review

Code Black
Reviewed for BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Hart
Screenwriter: Julia Hart, Jordan Horowitz
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, David Strathairn, Christopher Denham
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 3/27/19
Opens: April 19, 2019

Fast Color Movie Poster

Are movies in 2019 heading for the metaphoric and the allegorical? You’d think so after seeing Jordan Peele’s “Us,” which throws symbols at us so fast that we’re glad the film is not in 3D. Where his “Get Out!” was about racism and the white liberals’ hypocrisy, “Us” is about the whole America, which Peele divides into the rich and powerful and the underclass that serves it. “Fast Color” is at base a sci-fi thriller with a few mild aspects of horror, its domestic scene serving largely to make us more aware of the need for men to crush feminism, but it is also about a helicopter parent who smothers her daughter to such an extent that she becomes rebellious and moves away for a long time. Still, it can be enjoyed even by folks who don’t give much of a fig (to coin a metaphor) for symbols, since it shows domestic scenes to which some of us can relate. And for those who like computer graphics/visual effects, director Julia Hart has her abundant visual effects team throw in some bright color, albeit not of the fast kind.

Julia Hart, whose “Miss Stevens” tracks a teacher who shepherds a group to a drama competition (to which I can relate since I arranged similar activities for my high school students), and the upcoming “Stargirl,” about a homeschooled teen who shakes this up in an Arizona high school, may not be dealing with high-school kids in “Fast Color” but her interest remains with young women. The primary focus, and that of her real-life husband Jordan Horowitz who serves as co-writer, is on Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a confused woman in her early thirties who is on the run. Formerly a drug addict, she for the past eight years of so has left her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) in the care of Ruth’s mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint).

Without the help of her mother, she is on the run from the government in a dystopian America that has not seen rain for a long time, conjuring up John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” if you will. She has a special power that makes a pursuing government out to haul her in to study her since when she has a seizure, the earth shakes and pictures fall from the wall of her solitary New Mexico town where Bo and Bo’s granddaughter are living. In particular Bill (Christopher Denham), a scientist who will advise Ruth to stop running because she is “hurting people,” has been trying to track her down.

This power has been handed down through the generations, though Bo, who does not get seizures, has a hobby of breaking up objects into molecules and putting them together, shown as she whips her cigarette into its toxic parts and puts it together. Much of the action is like the CGI; on a low key until the final minutes when the sky bursts into colors, the family’s principal trick consisting of taking the sky apart and putting it together into its current, bland blue color. Ultimately Sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn) hopes to track the runaway down, while we in the audience get the story’s principal twist. Yes, there’s something about this fellow that makes him more than just the enforcer of laws, a guy who has no intention of locking up his prey.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has entertained audiences in “A Wrinkle in Time,” another imaginative tale involving a father’s disappearance in space and the team sent to find him, but you’re probably wondering about her name. Her father, Patrick Mbatha is a Black South African doctor, and her mother Anne Raw, a Caucasian English nurse. The British-born actress delivers nicely, whether causing earthquakes all around her during her seizures, breaking free of the ropes that bind her, or checking into a fleabag motel that charges as much for a huge jug of water as it does for the room, though despite her special powers she is vulnerable almost throughout.

The problem with “Fast Color” is that the story is not solid enough to convince the audience that it serves the transcendent purpose of seeing it as a feminist allegory of three women (yes, even young Lila can make a bowl rise from the table and disappear into a collage of colorful dots) being chased by men who, if they could, deprive the trio of their powers. Nor are we convinced that the behavior of Ruth’s mother, Bo, caused Ruth to disappear from a forlorn home and desert her own daughter for eight years. In short, the tale could have used more flashes of melodrama.

“Fast Color” was filmed by Michael Fimognari exclusively in New Mexico.

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

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

WORKING WOMAN – movie review

Zeitgeist Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michal Aviad
Screenwriter: Sharon Azulay Eyal, Michal Vinik, Michal Aviad
Cast: Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy, Oshri Cohen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/16/19
Opens: March 27, 2019

Isha Ovedet (2018)

It should not be difficult to discourage men who harass women (or other men) for sex, stalking, wheedling, begging, demanding, and the like. But when the men (assuming 90-95% of the guilty are men) have something over you, things get complicated. We know from recent exposés by the #MeToo movement and journalists in general how easy it must have been for Harvey Weinstein to get what he wanted from women. As the leading producer of films in the U.S., he could make or break careers. This explains why so many women waited for years before getting the courage to testify against him.

But Harvey Weinstein is only one guy. There are local schlemiels who are able to get away with harassment simply because they employ women. It’s not so easy to fight off an employer when you need his recommendation for a new job. This is why dominant males do not always need to use a great deal of force to touch, even rape women who are, so to speak, under them. Nor is sexual harassment found only in the U.S. and Europe, as Michal Aviad points out forcefully enough with “Working Woman,” or “Isha Ovedet” in the original Israeli title. Aviad, in her sophomore dramatic feature (in addition to documentaries she is known for “Invisible,” dealing with two women who discover that their rapists are in common), illustrates the way that Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) is drawn into the sordidi network of her boss, Benny (Menashe Noy). She is such a valuable employee that one may wonder why she needs him more than he needs her.

As a marketer of real estate property, she has gone beyond her boss’ skills. In the case on view here, she is able to sell apartments in the Israeli city of Rishon La Zion using tactics that Benny would not have thought of. Things get hairy when Benny at first asks her to wear her hair long, then tries to kiss her. Like so many other predators, he apologizes “It won’t happen again.” It does, culminating in a situation in which Benny tries to rape her in a Paris hotel, though Orna, at first trying to fight him off, gives in—only partly because he outweighs her by a hundred pounds. She is probably thinking that since the new restaurant business started by her husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) may go belly-up, nobody will be around to support her family of five.

That’s the situation, one that must be repeated thousands, maybe millions of time by the male of the species, those who are in controlling situations. And since most business is owned by men, these predators must be having a field day, using their dominance to get what they want.

With a stunning principal performance by Liron Ben Shlush and with a direction by feminist Michal Aviad that refuses to degenerate into noisy melodrama, “Working Woman” is able to get the message across in an entertaining format with a direct, narrative style—no animation, flashbacks and the like. The film is in Hebrew and some French with English subtitles.

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

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

RBG – movie review


Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for BigAppleReviews.net & Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Cast:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton, Orrin Hatch, The Notorious B.I.G, Gloria Steinem
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/3/18
Opens: May 4, 2018, Streaming August 28, 2018 and sure to be considered for awards votes beginning 11/29/18.
RBG Movie Poster
With whom on the Supreme Court would you feel most comfortable to have a beer?  Roberts? Alito? Gorsuch, Kavanaugh?  These four may be too conservative, even reactionary for you, assuming that you’re a progressive at heart, but that’s not to say they’re no fun. Remember that progressives and conservatives, even reactionaries, can have good times together. As we see from this biopic, the title character, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had a remarkable friendship with Antonin Scalia though they were polar opposites in their legal ideologies.  They were both opera buffs and even shared an elephant ride in India, quite a bit more time together than just enjoying a Bud Light.  If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you probably can’t imagine sharing much with a woman 85 years old and give or take a couple of inches standing five feet tall, but whenever Justice Ginsburg speak before a group of high-school or college students she generates formidable  electricity.  If you can forget about the recent nomination kerfuffle involving Brett Kavanaugh, it’s possible that RBG is the only Supreme Court Justice that a broad sweep of Americana had even heard of.

Co-director Julie West, known for “American Veteran” (a veteran returns from the wars with serious injurious from an IED in Afghanistan) and Betsy West, at the helm of “The Lavender Scare” (President Eisenhower determines that homosexuals are a security risk) are able to express their progressive views again, teaming up for the picture with what will probably be the shortest title this year.
And the picture is a doozy.  If you expect some solemn, government-issued coverage of one of nine Supreme Court justices, you are happily mistaken, because Cohen and West make sure to capture some of the key comic moments of Ginsburg’s life.

To be sure, some portions of the movie will deal with cases that were turning points in American jurisprudence, giving Ginsburg the opportunity to write dissenting opinions with the one-after-another 5-4 rulings.  Most of all, though, the documentarians, who have caught key moments in her life, make this quite an entertainment while grounded in the RBG as a human being.  Chief among her views is that men and women should be considered equal, getting the same pay for the same work and the same chances for promotions.  It should be obvious to all that anything less than such equality is beyond the pale, yet in the case of Frontiero v. Richardson in 1973, a married woman had to fight the U.S. Air Force to get the same housing benefits as her male colleagues.  In United States v. Virginia, a 1996 case held that women must be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute, or VMI.  What woman even today would not appreciate given the choice of dating classmates when outnumbered by men by some 50 to 1?

The film quickly covers her childhood in Brooklyn, New York, her high-school days, and the higher education which allowed RBG to practice law and to climb the ladder to sit with the highest court in the land.  Martin Ginsburg, her late husband, comes across as her leading cheerleader, which may have helped them to enjoy a marriage lasting over half a century.  A Saturday Night Live sketch highlights Kate McKinnon’s gleefully impersonating RBG lifting weights, and so constantly in motion that she is virtually break dancing. And in fact to this day she works out in a gym with a trainer who gets her to 20 pushups at a time while a couple of women approaching her age joke that they could probably not be able even to get up from the floor—or even to get down to the floor!

As a badge of honor she was criticized by President Trump for saying that in effect the man is unqualified to sit in the Oval Office, and while not mentioned in this film, she joked that she might consider moving to New Zealand if he became President.  Caricatures show her as Wonder Woman and other Marvel heroes, roles you would not expect for such a slight, quiet, woman, unassuming—that is until she shows her teeth in trashing some of the Supreme Court majority opinions that set the country back to the bad old days, according to progressives.  She pulled no punches while interviewed by the Senate, which had the power to confirm or withhold Bill Clinton’s nomination of the woman, holding that women should have reproductive rights.  Such a viewpoint in 2018 would probably have a nominee rejected by the world’s most prestigious club, yet she was confirmed 96-3.

It’s a pleasure to take in the full-of-life biopic of the Court’s most vivid, celebrated, and revered woman.

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

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

WILDLIFE – movie review


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+



Bleecker Street and 30 West
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Screenwriter: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 8/1/18
Opens: September 21, 2018

Colette Movie Poster

If you think that Paris has always been a sophisticated city with a reputation for progressivism, think again. Though Renoir’s paintings were accepted by Parisians, the impressionist painter had to bear with years of bad reviews. And in 1913, when Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was first performed on the Paris stage, there were outright riots as the audience had never heard tones such as those played by the mournful bassoon, the dissonance that has become the watchword of contemporary music, or the knock-kneed women that appeared on the stage when the overture was completed. The public, in fact, had been prepared with choice vegetables, looking for a fight, people who, if they were an elite attending a concert, could be mistaken for some of the deplorables that Hillary cited in her campaign.

But, you say, Paris is still the city of love! Yes, except that while women could be accepted as companions for men three times their age, not so long ago, homosexuality could not. In one of the melodramatic incidents in a movie that moves along smoothly without Hollywood-style mayhem, the crowd became antagonistic only when two women kiss each other on stage. Director Wash Westmoreland, whose “Still Alice” investigates problems when a linguistics professor and family have their bond tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, now finds the title character’s bond with her husband tested as well. There’s plenty of conflict in his “Colette,” a biopic of one of France’s great novelists, who during most of her career suffered the indignity of ghost-writing salacious novels for her husband Willy (Dominic West), the much older husband who notes that a woman simply could not be published in Europe in the early twentieth century. Like the couple in Björn Runge’s “The Wife,” dealing with a talented woman whose books were published under the name of her husband, “Colette” demonstrates yet another way that today’s #MeToo feminism is the happy background for writers and directors who try to compensate for society’s prejudice against creative females.

“Colette” could probably do just fine with any reputable star in the lead role, but Keira Knightley’s awards-worthy performance allows the film to soar both emotionally and intellectually. Though some will grouse that a French woman is the subject of a movie produced in the UK with British actors, you would do well to overlook that and enjoy the delightful unfolding of a career centered on a woman who could have spent her life in obscurity had she not decided to break away from her husband and knock out novels with her own name.

The film opens in 1893 when Colette (Keira Knightley), a country girl from Burgundy, is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a fake novelist who runs a stable of ghost writers and is now to include his beautiful wife among the serfs. One may wonder how Colette put up with the womanizer who even at age 46 had women in the early twenties throwing themselves at him. Noting that his wife, who in at least one instance is locked up in a room with the demand that she spend four hours writing before being freed, emerges with pages showing considerable spice. Willy sees a way out of his perpetual poverty brought about by gambling, dining and whoring. After the repo guys take away his furniture, he is saved financially when Colette” Claudine at School” becomes a best seller.

Colette turns out to be bisexual, carrying on an affair with an American from Louisiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), using her experiences as juice for future novels. The most interesting attraction is between Colette and Missy (Denise Gough), a woman who resembles Ellen De Generis with her suit, close hair style, and masculine carriage.

As with blockbuster thrillers, the women come out on top, so to speak, Colette gets revenge, divorcing her miserable husband, and goes on to write thirty novels. The picture, scripted by the director, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is constructed in a conventional manner (unusual, perhaps, considering the sexual progressivism of the theme) and is not only a great story but highlights a marvelous Keira Knightley as a turn-of-20th-century feminist.

Unrated. 111 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

PUZZLE – movie review


Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marc Turtletaub
Screenwriter: Oren Moverman, adapted from the Argentine movie “Rompecabezas” (“Puzzle”)
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 6/7/18
Opens: July 27. 2018

Puzzle Movie Poster

If Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) ever gets tired of working on jigsaw puzzles she can always find a job with the FBI putting together attorney Michael Cohen’s shredded documents. “Puzzle” is the story of how a mousy woman emerges from her restricted life when she discovers a talent for putting together 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles in competitive times. But of course this is not a movie about those pieces that come in big boxes with bright pictures on the covers. The real puzzle is why Agnes let herself be overcome by inertia spending so much time vacuuming, baking, and catering hand and foot to her husband Louie (David Denman) and her two grown sons Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams).

That should remind us that this is a feminist film, one not about an activist taking part in reproductive rights marches or complaining that the corporation does not pay her on the same scale as men doing the same job. No, “Puzzle” is about a mousy woman, a regular churchgoer who says grace before dinner and who looks out for everyone’s welfare but her own. When she meets Robert (Irrfan Khan), her life changes, though given the final, open-ended puzzling minute of the film, we in the audience might be tempted to say “Huh? That’s what she decides in the end?”

The Bridgeport, Connecticut family live in a nice but modest house in a blue collar section accessible by train to New York City. So far as we know Agnes had never been to Grand Central Station before she finds her new talent and might just as soon be living in Pyongyang as she does not use computers or smartphones and travels only to the family lakeside home for summer vacations. Her two sons had not been to college though Ziggy wants to culinary school, to the dismay of his hulking dad who looks cooking is for women. When Louie breaks a dish, Agnes looks under the chairs to piece it together, not because she cannot afford to replace it but because she has a subconscious talent for putting things together. When she gets a birthday present of a jigsaw puzzle—after baking the cake and cleaning for her own party—she surprises herself by putting it together in short order, then travels to a Manhattan specialty store to buy more jigsaw puzzles. When she sees a note in the store from Robert asking for a partner to compete with him in a puzzle contest, she applies, gets the job, and spends two days every week training for the competition. Of course this sheltered, middle-aged woman grows romantically involved with her Indian-American partner and he, a rich inventor whose wife had left him, reciprocates. Poof: she’s out of her shell and ready for real life.

Casting Kelly Macdonald could not have been a better choice. She is an iconic mousy stay-at-home mother (Not Macdonald—her character Agnes) who for the most part would have ended her days vacuuming, baking, cooking, picking up her husband’s Manchego cheese. As for David Denman’s Louie, if you have a stereotyped view of burly men who work with their hands in garages, you will discover how gentle he can be, but there’s a limit to how much wandering he can put up with given her lying to him about where she goes when she leave for days at a time (he thinks she’s visiting her injured aunt). As for India-born Irrfan Khan, his character is rich from inventing some use for magnets but he is a lonely man who does not often go outside. Khan has acted in more experimental movies before, groundbreaking ones like “Life of Pi,” which is Ang Lee’s colorful look at a survivor of a sea disaster, “The Lunchbox,” which is Ritesh Batra’s look at the connection between a young woman and an older man who build a fantasy life together, and Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” about a Mumbai teen accused of cheating on a quiz program.

For his part, director Marc Turtletaub’s “Gods Behaving Badly,” an imaginative romp of Greek gods turned loose in New York may be more boldly imaginative than his current feature, but “Puzzle,” on a lower key, is an adorable, absorbing view of a woman turned feminist, a movie that sustains our involvement largely from Kelly Macdonald’s light-handed performance. Christopher Nor filmed “Puzzle” in Yonkers, New York to stand in for Bridgeport, Connecticut and features a memorable rendition of “Ave Maria” by Matthew Shifrin.

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

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

MOLLY’S GAME – movie poster


    Director:  Aaron Sorkin
    Written by: Aaron Sorkin based on the book “Molly’s Game”
    Cast:  Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/9/17
    Opens: December 25, 2017
    Molly's Game Movie Poster
    “Molly’s Game” is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, whose accomplishments include writing screenplays about organizations (“The Social Network” about Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and “Steve Jobs” from Apple Computers).  In his directing debut now, his movie can be summarized as one about Molly Bloom, who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game.”  As played by the remarkable Jessica Chastain (“Miss Sloane,” “Miss Julie,”), the title character is about as elitist as a woman can get.  Nowadays, Trump supporters consider anyone who sips Chardonnay in Manhattan or chooses latté as her breakfast beverage is elite. “Elitist” is considered a pejorative, a condemnation of people who think they are better than the rest of us.  But let’s face it: we are not all equal.  Folks who have brains, use them daily, graduate summa cum laude from top colleges and go on to contribute all the great discoveries and know-how to a technological civilization–really are better.

    What Molly Bloom contributes, given her background which includes a 3.92 average in college and an acceptance to law school, is money for herself and a place for people of great wealth and celebrity to play cards.  That’s a strange idea, since after, does Nathan Detroit in the musical “Guys and Dolls,” make a great living by simply providing card sharps with a garage for their game?  The more I watch this film, the more I wonder why the millionaire moguls and Hollywood hotties don’t just get together with one another and decide a place for their weekly game instead of paying Molly $250,000 as simply a cover charge for the Hotel Plaza or other spots including one hotel that charges $5200 a night.

    Despite its length of two hours and ten minutes, the story rolls by so fast, the narration by the principal character so literate, the facts so detailed,  that you won’t have time to check your watch.  This is a movie whose writing can be lyrical, patter of the screenplay so quick, and the performances so deft, that is obviously one of the films to look for during awards ceremonies—including potential nominations for Jessica Chastain as actress and Idris Elba as supporting actor.

    The true story, depending on how much you believe of Molly Bloom’s own book by the same name, is both a fascinating look at what the beautiful people do with their spare time and the ways that Molly is a one-in-a-million personality.  Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) spent her early life pushed by her father (Kevin Costner) to be the best at whatever she does, and what she does is become a world-famous skier of Olympic quality.  We watch as she descends a 52-degree snow-packed mountain, does flips like an Olympic swimmer making points off the divine board, but in one fateful turn falls and is knocked unconscious, later requiring spine surgery and the end of her skiing career.  She is hired to run a high-stakes weekly poker game, and together with other beautiful women encourages the men around the tables to meet regularly.  These are no penny-ante games but sometimes single hands that can run up to three million dollars.

    Sorkin wants us to be familiar with what these celebs do, so he brings us into the hotel rooms, and though not setting up any suspense about winners and losers, impresses us with their determination to get together which is so strong that they have no problem dishing out $250,000 to enter.  When she is arrested for running illegal gambling, she hires Charlie Jaffey as her attorney, a man so talented in his field that he is able to charge a retainer fee of $250,000.  Arrested by 17 agents of the FBI ready to break down her door, she is asked by the government to name the names of the people she has dealt with and encouraged to do so by her lawyer to avoid prison.  What she does becomes one of the suspenseful aspects of the story.

    Look especially for the type of person Jessica Chastain embodies.  Her father, who is a practicing psychotherapist, is aware that her prized daughter appears to be unemotional, cold, someone who has admitted that she has no heroes and does not trust people.  Though a couple of men come on to her, particularly an often-drunk Irishman played by Chris O’Dowd who is sure that the woman is Irish given her name and his knowledge of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”  She is not. Ironically considering Molly’s image as a woman with no romance in her life, this breathlessly-paced movie is full of passion.

    Unrated.  140 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BATTLE OF THE SEXES – movie review


    Fox Searchlight Pictures
    Director:  Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
    Written by: Simon Beaufoy
    Cast:  Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrew Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/13/17
    Opens: September 29, 2017
    Battle of the Sexes Movie Poster
    Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s movie “Battle of the Sexes” has been called a crowd-pleaser everywhere, because it’s the kind of movie with a finale that would viewers to their feet.  In another words, it’s not a downer, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  A crowd-pleaser tends to move at a rapid pace and has great appeal to popular, i.e. massive, tastes, and the people in the film that you’re rooting for will, despite initial setbacks, come out as winners.  Well, then, whether “Battle of the Sexes” is such a movie depends on whom you support.  Using tennis as a metaphor for the conflict between feminism and male chauvinism, wouldn’t those who want the male player to win feel disappointed at the conclusion?

    Example: We all know by now that Billy Jean King defeated her challenger, Bobby Riggs, in a match held not at Forest Hills, which traditionally gets an audience elite enough to applaud politely rather than yell as though at Churchill Downs. This is said to be a victory for feminism and against show-offs such as Riggs and his many supporters.  But it is really a great victory?  Riggs was 55 years old and King was 29.  The big surprise is that previous to the 1973 match, Bobby Riggs defeated the woman who was the number one world champion, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee).  Doesn’t this in itself attest to the athletic superiority of men, given the age difference here?

    In the movie directed by the duo who gave us “Little Mary Sunshine”—featuring women who want to get their young daughters into a beauty competition—Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is the kind of hustler and self-described male chauvinist pig who want to prove that since women cannot beat men in athletics, the sport of tennis is justified in paying male players eight times more than women.  This concept is repudiated by  Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) and publicized by her business partner Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), the latter invading a male club to give a piece of her mind to Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), a former tennis champ now a big shot in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.

    There’s more involved than most of us had seen in 1973 in that Billie Jean, married to hunky Larry King (Austin Stowell),  is a closet lesbian who during the course of this film begins an affair with a hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough).  During the concluding moments of the movie, for those who did not yet absorb the point, she hugs the league’s fashion designer, Ted (Alan Cumming), who notes that we’ll all be better off if we can be our true selves, undaunted by public censure of Neanderthals.

    Steve Carell is in his métier as loudmouth who thinks that tennis has the same USA-USA-USA rah-rah-ism as so-called professional wrestling and college football.  This is Emma Stone’s movie, though. She comes across as a woman ahead of her time, at first by refusing to accept the challenge of her male counterpart, but then realizing that womankind would advance the cause by taking him on.

    So…therein lies the crowd pleaser, presumably cheered unanimously by women (but not apparently by the hotties who wear costumes touting their male hero, but again: if women are the equals of men in athletics, could Ms. King defeat a man her own age?  Have the female winners of the annual New York marathon ever equaled the time clocked in by the male victors?  And why do we have separate divisions for women’s basketball rather than allow them to compete for places with the men in the pro leagues?

    These are but intellectual arguments that do nothing to downgrade the fun of “Battle of the Sexes,” pitting two A-list actors into a delightful grudge match.  The movie, to coin a term in tennis scoring, is “Love Love.”

    Rated PG-13.  121 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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