GEMINI – movie review


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Aaron Katz
Screenwriter:  Aaron Katz
Cast:  Lola Kirke, Zoe Kravitz, John Cho, Ricki Lake, Greta Lee, Michelle Forbes
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 2/28/18
Opens: March 30, 2018

If you want to be an actor, you must realize that 95% of thespians at any given time are unemployed (or waiting tables).  A startling contrast finds that some performers who have done exceptionally well in Hollywood and live in real estate that could rival the beauty of the Taj Mahal desire nothing more than a long break, as does a principal character in “Gemini.”  Aaron Katz, whose “Land Ho!” found former brothers-in-law embarking on a road trip through Iceland, now looks into a geographical contrast as well, situating his new movie amid plush Hollywood neighborhoods.

Viewers will likely label the picture a film noir, a genre that at its height found a home in the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s,  the type of film that features hard-boiled, cynical characters, often a detective or gumshoe, and best of all encompasses moral ambiguity.  Moral ambiguity is on parade in this dark drama, the night sky often lit up by the flashes of paparazzi cameras particularly during moments celebrities may find embarrassing.

The kind of star represented here is often irritating at best and evoking hatred at worst, even a desire by frustrated people to kill.  The pacing is fairly brisk, and even the identity of a dead body can be considered ambiguous.  Though this is in part a detective story, the real center is the relationship between a young and beautiful star, Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz) and her loyal, if career-climbing assistant Jill (Lola Kirke).  Those of us who work with demanding bosses or employers who are regularly threatening to dismiss members of a staff might wonder at the bond enjoyed by assistant and star since they not only work well together but share a co-dependent relationship as best friends.  A template for this type of movie might be found in Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” in which a woman, first appearing as a youth, is asked twenty years later to play the role of a deceased star, heading to the Swiss Alps with her assistant to prepare for the task.

After Heather drops her boyfriend Devin (Reeve Carney) as she has a thing for a female model Tracy (Greta Lee), she sends her assistant to take care of the details.  When Heather also decides not to do a movie to which she had committed, she frustrates Greg, the director (Nelson Franklin) and her agent Jamie (Michelle Forbes).  When Jill asks to borrow her assistant’s revolver—she feels unsafe after an aggressive fan-girl forces her way to their table at a coffee shop demanding a photo together with the actress.  As Chekhov said, if you see a gun in act one it will be used in act three.  A homicide with the gun brings in detective Edward Ahn (John Cho), who uses his charm to manipulate Jill into a confession (her fingerprints are on the gun).  The plot winds down to a denouement that is too rushed to be credible, but the film scores thematically in its look at the need of even the most celebrated actress to depend on a deep friendship with others, in this case her assistant.

The majestic buildings on display, particularly a Moroccan villa that could have housed a caliph, could fool an unsophisticated person into thinking that all it takes to buy one is to hang out with producers are advised that a small fraction of one percent of actors are able to turn their careers into the cash for such splendor.

Unrated.  93 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+

Overall – B

I LOVE YOU DADDY – movie review


    The Orchard
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
    Grade: B
    Director:  Louis C.K.
    Written by: Louis C.K., Vernon Chatman
    Cast:  Louis C.K., Chloë Grace Moretz, Charlie Day, Edie Falco, John Malkovich, Rose Byrne, Helen Hunt
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/12/17
    Opens: November 17, 2017 Release has been cancelled by the distributor
    I Love You, Daddy Poster #1
    When a critic for the trade magazine Variety reviewed this picture at the Toronto International Film Festival some months back, he had no idea that the off-screen Louis C.K would become more discussed than his movie.  Louis C.K., of Mexican-American heritage, directs, has co-written and stars in the mostly comic look at the lives of entertainment people.  Given its black-and-white filming, and the big statement “The End” at the conclusion, we’re obviously seeing a modern look at the TV business but in the style of the forties and not with implied references to Woody Allen.

    Louis C.K., perhaps the only celebrity who in real life has freely admitted the charge that he sexually harassed the five women who recently filed complaints, does not in my view deserve to have the studio cancel the distribution of this entertaining and insightful film.  Nor should Stephen Colbert have canceled this director’s show one night before he was to appear since, after all, given Louis C.K.”s willingness to come clean (I should probably rephrase that), he would have made a stellar guest.

    The “I Love You, Daddy” title is taken from the overly-frequent expression of China (Chloë Grace Moretz), the beautiful, blond 17-year-old daughter of Glen Topher (Louis C.K.).  China should be grateful for the life of wealth that his divorced dad has given her (she had expressed her desire to be under the custody of her dad rather than of her mother played by Helen Hunt).  Glen has been awfully lenient with her. He’s just a guy who can’t say no when she wants to go to Florida on Spring Break  and hardly protests when she asks to return just a week or so later.  He has given her no direction, has drawn no boundaries, and yet thinks he deserves to be praised simply because he lavishes his wealth on her.  She is so spoiled that she chooses not to go on to college, since with all the wealth in her family, why bother?

    Glen is faced by two problems. After spectacular successes with TV episodic shows, he now has writers’ block, but given his fame, a desirable actress, Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), wants desperately to be cast.  Further, he is putting his foot down, albeit not with much impact, by forbidding his daughter from accepting an invitation to Paris from Lesley Graham (John Malkovich), a celebrated filmmaker with a taste for young women, preferably before they reach 18.  It’s no surprise that she goes, and we are not given clues to what exactly she does with him beyond drinking expensive wine and listening to his sophomoric philosophy of life.

    The film blends  queasy drama with mostly sit-comish comedy, the latter contributed heavily by Ralph (Charlie Day), who hangs out regularly on Glen’s couch and serves as the vulgar clown, including a spell of simulated masturbation at the mere mention of the sexy actress Grace Cullen.  In that last regard, those of us with a knowledge of the specific charges in real life against the comedian cannot help saying that art follows life.  Put me down as considering it a shame that what an actor does that’s not according to Hoyle means that the public will be unable to partake of this entertainment, as though the man’s peccadilloes should put him on a blacklist.  There is some doubt as well that DVD sales are forthcoming, meaning that the only people who see this movie are critics and the audience at the Toronto Film Festival.

    Rated R.  123 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE DISASTER ARTIST – movie review


    Director:  James Franco
    Screenwriter:  Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
    Cast:  Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jackie Weaver, Zac Efron
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/5/17
    Opens: December 1, 2017
    The Disaster Artist Movie Poster
    Tommy Wiseau in 2003 directed, produced, wrote and stars in “The Room,” amid the howls of audiences, a movie that evoked all-out belly-laughing tremors.  There was this one trouble: “The Room” was not meant to be a comedy, but rather a serious, semi-autobiographical look at the sad life of the artist.  The movie was made for six million dollars, taking in $1800 on opening weekend.  Too bad.  Audiences should have flocked to see that one, considered by some to be the worst movie of all time, though Wiseau faced competition from Ed Wood, known for “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” and from Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.”  The good news is that a cult audience eventually propelled “The Room” into the black thanks to its showings on the midnight circuits.

    James Franco not only adapts but seems to have copied the actions and lines from “The Room” to make a new movie in effect superimposed on the 2003 tale.  “The Disaster Artist” is a terrific re-make, and since its aim is comedic, people can laugh with Franco just as they laughed at Wiseau.

    In “The Disaster Artist,” which opened on the first of December this year, James Franco takes the role of Tommy Wiseau while Dave Franco goes with Tommy’s best friend Greg Sestero, whom Tommy calls “Baby Face” because handsome Greg is a 20-something who had probably made good at modeling.  Since Greg wants more than anything to be a star in Hollywood and not to wind up pumping gas in San José, he teams up with Tommy, though Tommy’s drama coach back home tells him he did not have a chance to make it as an actor.  Greg moves to LA with Tommy, sharing the strange man’s apartment, and never worries too much about how Tommy made his money—enough cash to make a six million dollar picture.  Nor does he care that much about Tommy’s home base, which is allegedly New Orleans, but is more likely to have been somewhere in Eastern Europe as the man leaves out complex words like “a,” “an,” and “the.”

    The more serious scenes find Tommy a depressive, concerned that the whole world has betrayed him, and never realizing that he truly did not have a talent for acting or making movies.  He accuses even Greg, his best friend, the guy whose career he nurtures and who turns against him.  We in the audience hope that all’s well that ends well, since if we’ve got any soul at all, we feel as sorry for a benighted Tommy as we laugh at him and feel guilty for doing so.

    With Hollywood’s major funny-man Seth Rogen turning in a performance as script supervisor, “The Disaster Artist,” graced with a deliberately awkward role by the great James Franco, could get accolades at end-year awards time as one of the great comedies of a more or less weak cinematic year.

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

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