7500 – movie review

7500
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Patrick Vollrath
Screenwriter: Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halibasic
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Ayilin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Paul Wollin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/20
Opens: June 18, 2020

7500 Poster

Movies that respect the 3 Greek unities, taking place within a day in the same place with a single action are rare, something you will find in some Greek tragedies but considered too theatrical for the big screen. “7500” is this year’s Aristotelian drama, all photographed not only in the same plane but in the cockpit, with some screen time given to the havoc in the passenger seats. This is the kind of nail-biter that will have the audience yelling “No, no, no, that’s your girlfriend and mother of your child being threatened with death unless you open the door, but don’t do it!” “7500” exploits the danger that some of feel every time we fly that the aircraft will be highjacked, a feeling more likely after 9/11 when movies like “Gaganam” (2011), “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), “Kandahar” (2010) and “Nonstop” (2014) came out. To stand out from the others, new movies on that theme try to be different in some way. “7500” does this by taking place in a claustrophobic place that has room under normal conditions for just a pilot and first officer.

The opening scene is strictly preparation for a flight from Berlin to Paris, just 530 air miles, seemingly too short for would-be terrorists to do what they have to do, though that may depend on just what the bad guys want. Do they want to hijack the aircraft to Kabul? To Teheran? To Sanaa? At first we don’t know, but as things turn out neither does one of the three extremist Islamic, at least one and probably all of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

A number of air criminals who commandeered planes on that dark day in 9/11 may not have realized that the plan of the leaders was to crash and die. Similarly Vedat (Omid Memar), one of the three desperadoes, has no idea that taking the plane down and killing the crew and all passengers is the motive for avenging the deaths of Muslims in the hands of Westerners. The Captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlingler) and his first officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) run through the usual flight prep just after Tobias gets to kiss his flight attendant girlfriend Gökce (Ayilin Tezel). No sooner does the German plane reach cruising altitude then Kinan (Murathan Muslu), taking advantage of the momentary opening of the cockpit door, lands inside brandishing a knife made of glass.

Director Patrick Vollrath, veteran of eight shorts including “Ketchup Kid” (an eleven-year-old outsider makes a friend), takes off with his first narrative feature film, one which shows that the German born fellow is destined to be in the director’s chair for a number of thrillers to come. He makes the smart move of eschewing music in the soundtrack, preventing us from being distracted by anything but the noise of the bad guys outside the cockpit pounding on the door, making us in the audience wonder whether this is the way they will get inside.

What happens during Tobias’s tête-à-tête with eighteen-year-old Vedat (Omid Memar) need not be revealed here, but suffice it to say that Tobias, without agreeing in the slightest with the Islamist argument that revenge is necessary because the West has made war on Islamic radicals, develops Stockholm Syndrome. He hopes first to get out alive, then to make sure that his new “buddy” will be treated well if he decides to surrender to the German police.

At just 39, Gordon-Levitt has been busy, with 84 acting credits. He can do what he does in “7500” in his sleep. To see what the actor can really do, you’ll want to take in his role as the title character in Oliver Stone’s “Snowden.” Because of the fierce acting by Memar and Gordon-Levitt, the latter fluctuating between grabbing a glass knife to kill or injure Memar and making sure that Memar is treated fairly, “7500” (the code name for a hijacked flight) is better than the typical B movie. But it is still a B movie.

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

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

A HIDDEN LIFE – movie review

A HIDDEN LIFE
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Terrence Malick
Screenwriter: Terrence Malick
Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti, Bruno, Ganz, Matthias Schoenaerts, Karin Neuhauser, Ulrich Matthes
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/9/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

A Hidden Life Movie Poster

In the novel “Middlemarch,” George Eliot praises those of us who do good without getting our fifteen minutes of fame: “…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Among directors who take this expression to heart and project to their audience the lives of such people, you can scarcely find one more qualified than Terrence Malick. The master of meditative movies is back with his best offering in eight years, having wowed his (admittedly) relative small audience with “The Tree of Life,” the story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956 wherein an adolescent boy is conflicted by his mother and father’s opposing ideas of upbringing.

With “A Hidden Life,” Malick takes us back to the 1940s, focusing his lenses on a family of six on a farm in St Radegun, Austria (filmed on location), a vista of compelling beauty framed by the Alps, complete with trees that rustle in the wind and brooks that flow without impedance. In a story based on real events, Franz Jägestätter (August Diehl) lives with his wife Franziska Jägerstätter, his mother-in-law, and his three young daughters. Franziska appears to have influenced him to the wonders of religion, a loving woman who cannot embrace her husband enough, who joins in the fun of mock chases with the little girls. He will later prove that he did not remain a hidden life, for his momentous decision to refuse to swear loyalty to Hitler who had annexed Austria threatens to cost him his life. A conscientious objector who nonetheless reports to an induction center where he refuses to raise his arm in a salute to Hitler, he suffers the hostility of all members of his farming community outside of his family. He would be punched spit upon, lectured by the town mayor, and altogether ostracized by these simply Austrian fellows who ecstatically welcomes the Anschluss, or annexation of their country to Germany.

Much of the three hour presentation is bound to tax the patience of some in the audience who might not be aware of the types of movies that Malick regularly makes. In this case, though the people in the story are all German speaking, ninety percent of the dialogue is in English, and not so much the dialogue of the people but instead that of their narrated thoughts. During the first segment of the movie, some in the audience will be wondering: When will something happen? Instead we see the daily, monotonous, grinding work of the people, threshing without the aid of modern equipment, cutting the wheat with scythes and harvesting with the aid of a donkey and a cow. The writer-director gives us a splendid picture of what farming was like some eighty years ago, later to contrast that with the brutality of the Nazis given almost complete authority over their Austrian prisoners.

You can’t say that when the Germans heard of this “traitor” who refuses to fight for the fatherland, they just hoisted him up on the gallows. Several military officers did their best to get him to sign a loyalty oath and take his chances on fighting. There was even some expectation that he would be exempted as were some farmers. Even in the end, when condemned to death, Judge Lueben (Bruno Ganz), one of the elderly judges on the military court, counseled that his protest would not mean a thing; that it would not stop the war or hinder the war effort in the slightest. Franz would probably agree. Though he probably lacked much education, his ethical choice was influenced not by consequentialism (make your ethical choice by the results that would ensue), but more by deontology (do the right thing even if by consequence it did not matter).

Since the church declared him a martyr and later beatified him, and since Malick made a film about him, the German judge was obviously wrong. It’s not clear from “A Hidden Life” what was in Franz’s background that made him the only farmer to refuse to serve the Führer, but by the conclusion of the three hours, we have a solid picture of the daily, natural life of small-town farmers contrasted with the brutality of the war effort. Diehl and Pachner anchor the film in their stirring roles, the latter showing how far a wife would go to stop her man from being a martyr, while Diehl demonstrates the absolute determination to resist.

This is a film that Malick fans will find irresistible.

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

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

JOJO RABBIT – movie review

JOJO RABBIT
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenwriter: Taika Waititi based on on the book “Caging Skies” by Chrstine Leunens
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Sam Rockwell, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Scarlett Johansson
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/14/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

The time is long past that we did not dare to treat Hitler and the Holocaust with broad comedy. Hitler was a demon, the most evil man of the 20th century, so how can we deal with him other than with serious documentaries and dramas? Must everything be as serious as Berthold Brecht’s 1941 play “The Resistable Rise of Urturo Ui”? No. Charlie Chaplin knew that the best way to take such people down is to laugh at them, thus “The Great Dictator,” though in 1940 Chaplin could scarcely have known just how evil the German chancellor was. “The Producers” could be considered the first major movie that laughs at Hitler, and now comes “Jo Jo Rabbit” that mocks Hitler as a fool but hardly shows the depths of depravity in his characterization by Taika Waititi. If you’re wondering about the name of this inventive director, Waititi hails from the Raukokore region of the East Coast of New Zealand, and is the son of Robin Cohen, a teacher, and Taika Waiti, an artist and farmer. His father is Maori (Te-Whanau-a-Apanui), and his mother is of Ashkenazi Jewish, Irish, Scottish, and English descent.

While the director has twenty-two credits, largely from overseeing TV episodes, his “What We Do in the Shadows” about vampires who worry more about paying the rent than about nourishing themselves, gives us a hint of the oddball and original works to come. The title figure in “Jojo Rabbit” is a ten-year-old boy from a German village played by Roman Griffin Davis, the son of Rosie Betzler, (Scarlett Johansson), who has an adult playmate in his spacious house named Adolf Hitler (the director himself). In the opening scenes which are the movie’s fastest-moving and zaniest, he attends a Hitler Youth camp taught by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), where the young men are taught military skills while the girls, scarcely teens, are instructed in how to get pregnant. (Truth to tell, the Nazi government cared not a whit about marriage. Women’s purpose was to give birth as many times as they could to populate the Reich with Aryan babies.) The girls here are instructed by Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) who gave the Fatherland eighteen of ‘em.

When Jojo Belcher is injured by a grenade he is drummed out of the camp but not before taking part in such fun activities as burning books. When he refused orders to kill a rabbit, he is derided by the counselors, given the nickname Jojo Rabbit. Filled with ridiculous tales of alleged Jewish depravity he is shocked to discover that his mother is hiding Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish woman of about eighteen years of age. You might expect that Elsa, when discovered by this young nazi kid, would cower, but instead she boldly declares that if Jojo turns her in, she would tell the Gestapo that he and his mother were hiding her, even using some physical force to show her lack of fear. Eventually, as everyone in the audience knew, he would hear about the Jewish tradition, how Jews were chosen by God, and comes around even to falling in love with her.

Brief archival shots show the genuine love for Hitler as thousands lined the streets when he passed in his car, reminding us that the people in charge of governments, the CEOs as you will, are often hardly the types of people that Plato advocated to be leaders. Few of them even now are Platonic philosopher kings, and many subjects are blown away by their vulgarity and cannot understand how their decisions could spell disaster for themselves and their country.

This is a remarkable feel-good movie in the style of Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” about a Jewish-Italian book shop owner who must shield his young son from the terrors of the Nazis. Eleven-year-old Roman Griffin Davis is the actor to watch, having turned in an astonishing role, evoking the full range of emotions from surprise to joy to terror. “Jojo Rabbit” was filmed in the Czech Republic.

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

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

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET – movie review

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET (Der boden unter den fuessen)
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Screenwriter: Marie Kreutzer
Cast: Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hoerbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Alex Sichrovsky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/19
Opens: July 26, 2019 at New York’s IFC

Though much is made of a woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Austrian-born writer- director Marie Kreutzer—whose debut feature “The Fatherless” deals as does her current film with the effect on a family of the appearance of their sister—covers considerable ground. “The Ground Beneath My Feet” can be looked upon as an anti-capitalist reach, centered on the relationship of a yuppie business consultant with her lunatic half-sister. Most of all it should compel you to consider people who are always dressed to kill, walking about as an iconic image of success, looking you right in the eye with their perfect complexions and well-trained bodies, with remarkable poise, restrained emotion, and perfect grooming, as likely as not to be harboring barely repressed memories and a conflicted wish to rid themselves of some of the responsibilities dragging them down.

Such is the case with Lola (Valerie Pachner), a slim woman who at the age of thirty is already on the way up in a consulting job that may remind you of George Clooney’s profession in “Up in the Air” as a hit-man of sorts helping companies to downsize their personnel in order to show more health in the bottom line. Kreutzer, though, is not as interested as Jason Reitman in comedy, but in a carefully paced drama that might make you realize that you’ve spent too much time in the office. It helps that the film is anchored by a remarkable performance from Valerie Pachner, who was previously seen in “Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden,” about an artist who scandalized Viennese society in the early 20th century with provocative paintings.

Much is made of Lola’s status as a single woman, an orphan with nobody capable of looking after her, though she is the legal guardian of Conny (Pia Hierzegger), her forty-year-old half sister who spends most of the story hospitalized in a Vienna psychiatric institution, clinging to Lola, complaining that she is being kept against her will and is physically punished for not doing what the staff insists that she do.

Life is particularly complicated for Lola given that her work takes her from her native Vienna to the town of Rostock in North Germany, not exactly a backwater but as I recall a picture-perfect town on the Warnow River. Like other executives on the way up, she tries to keep her personal and private lives separate, inventing excuses when she is actually returning to Vienna to see her sister. That’s not all. She is having a lesbian relationship with Elise (Mavie Hoerbiger), her boss, who in one scene are graphically getting it on during a few erotic moments.

So far, whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, but she may have made a mistake in telling her lover about her schizoid sister, as Elise begins to wonder whether mental illness runs in Lola’s family. Climaxes arrive in both Lola’s professional life and her family bonds, as Elise must make a decision on promotions in her staff, and Lola must bear an even greater burden when her sister is released and set up in her own flat. However, in a small scene that would be comical if it did not strike home here in the U.S., a male executive in the firm that has contracted with Lola’s not only hits on her while having steak in an upscale restaurant but tells her flat-out that many males would put their hands under the table and into her thighs but that “I am not like that.” In another small scene that appears to show her political views, when a homeless woman asks for fifty cents and is ignored by Lola, she curses Lola, calls her a “rich woman” and worse, receiving a curt answer from Lola that the woman’s poverty is her own fault.

This is quite the film, mixing business with, well, some pleasure but mostly family heartache, editor Ulrike Kofler taking us back and forth, exposing what some of us in the audience undoubtedly face: how to spread our lives around from our professional duties to our family obligations without suffering at least one nervous breakdown in our lives. The ensemble do a splendid job, some serving like a Greek chorus to serve as background to Lola while a select few, particularly Pia Hierzegger as her loony sister and Mavie Hoerbiger as her immediate superior represent Lola’s family life and business tensions respectively.

In German with English subtitles.

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

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

IN THE FADE – movie review

  • IN THE FADE

    Magnolia Pictures
    Director:  Fatih Akin
    Written by: Fatih Akin, Hark Boh,
    Cast:  Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Chancrin, Numan Acar
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/18/17
    Opens: December 27, 2017

    In the Fade

    Now that right-wing parties are arising, the stage is set for the movie industry to capitalize on the dangers we face from people who are out to harm us.  Countries in Europe with sizable minorities targeted by violent fascist groups, disgusted with the presence of people practicing different cultures from the majority. With “In the Fade,” Fatih Akin, born in Hamburg of Turkish roots, deals with the storm already in play, covering what he knows– having contributed films like “Goodbye Berlin.” This time Akin is on the money with a political thriller which could thrust Diane Kruger to the top of the heap during awards season when “Best Actress” need not be one performing in an American movie.

    In a film that accepts some of the tropes of American thrillers but gives a more nuanced portrayal here, we see that Katja (Diane Kruger) is not the “good guy” determined to avenge a killing by the “bad guys.” She herself lives outside the norms of femininity.  Her body is increasingly submerged in tattoos.  She does recreational drugs.  She smokes fiercely and without apology.  She marries an outsider, a Kurdish man who is even more flawed in that he deals drugs in the university where Katja meets him.  Katja, a full-bloodied German marries a man who is not only from Turkey but a prisoner “hosted” by the German government. When her husband Nuri (Numan Acar) is released from jail to the cheers of his fellows, he opens a travel agency/tax advice office and, when he becomes a father to Rocco (Rafael Santana), he gives up drugs completely and becomes a terrific husband.

    As though good things can’t last, he and his son are murdered by a bomb left on a bicycle outside the shop in the Turkish section of Hamburg.  A police investigation seems to be more interested in probing Katja’s character, particularly since she has been devastated so greatly by the murders that she indulges in hard drugs supplied to her by her lawyer, Danilo Fava (Denis Moschitto).

    A large segment of the movie takes place in a Hamburg courtroom, in which we Americans will note the differences we have with German law. Edda Möller (Hanna Hilsdorf), a suspect has been arrested, leading to a trial with a verdict to be determined by five judges, no jury.  There are no lawyers bouncing up and down with objections.  The procedure is more informal. Katja is called not simply a victim but a co-plaintiff, determined along with her friendly lawyer Danilo to convict the Nazi woman suspected of leaving her bicycle outside the travel agency.

    Not only does this film proceed at a breakneck pace: Diane Kruger, who in the past has shown complete proficiency with the English language, is now free to spew her righteous venom at the accused with such determination that we wonder whether the suspect would ever be free even if found not guilty.  Rainer Klausmann films in Hamburg and Greece, the latter country used because, we learn, that the German Nazis (they’re not called neo-Nazis as they are called here) are in cahoots with the Nazi ideologues in Greece.  Kruger’s acting is so convincing that we barely need Joshua Homme’s dazzling score to up the ante.  This is a film torn from today’s headlines and executed with such fervor that we in our seats may well feel light jumping through the screen to strangle the killer.

    Unrated.  115 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

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