I, PASTAFARI: A FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER STORY – movie review

I, PASTAFARI: A FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER STORY
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Arthur
Screenwriter: Michael Arthur
Cast: Niko Alm, Mathé Coolen, Mienke De Wilde, Daniel C. Dennett, Pedro L. Irigonegaray, Edward J. Larson, Bruder Spaghettus, Derk Venema, Bobby Henderson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/2/20
Opens: July 7, 2020

Poster

What makes a book sacred? Is there anything intrinsically sacred about the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Old Testament, the New Testament? For example, if members of the Guajajara indigenous tribe in Marantao state in Eastern Brazil saw a copy of one of these books, studied it, put a spear into it, would they find anything holy? Not likely. Is “The Art of the Deal” sacred? It is, if at least one American says it is, and you’ll probably find one patriot claiming that it is so. Books and the religious orders they teach are sacred only because people say they are. If you realize that much, you can go into a screening of “I, Pastafari” with an open mind.

Niko Alm (I) in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story (2019)

When you inspect the title of this movie, which would be better called simply “Pastafari,” you will guess that it has something to do with spaghetti and its cousins like ziti, macaroni, and linguini. Are the Pastafarians a joke? Yes and no. Though the documentary does not support the premise that the Pastafarians are just some jokers on spring break, we discover that they take themselves seriously when they insist that theirs is a religion like Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Mormonism and the like. In fact they make frequent journeys to courtrooms in their home countries, particularly in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, to prove that they meet the criteria of real religions, because they’re serious. Worshippers of the flying spaghetti monster, the deity that should be put into capital letters as with other faiths The Flying Spaghetti Monster, love their logo featuring two eyes atop a mound of pasta with two meatballs. They even show off a painting of mankind reaching out, naked to the right, to receive the gift of life from a bowl of noodles.

Still of Bruder Spaghettus in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story (2019)

Still, this is no “Animal House,” but features instead a multi-national group of some young people and some with long white beards who wear colanders on their head. They refuse to remove their respectful metal attire when told that they could not get drivers’ licenses unless they wear the headgear for religious reasons, so they pounce on that loophole and win the right, at least in the ultra-liberal Netherlands, to take their pictures, so long as their faces are clearly shown.

In archival films, we see the Pastafarians with somber faces defending their right to be considered a religion just like the older ones that have established themselves, winning a few court decisions, losing most. Those of us viewing the picture get the point that they are really atheists who piggyback the idea posited by proponents of the theory of intelligent design, that if you cannot prove that it’s wrong, it should be upheld as a legitimate point of view. Some archival shots of the so-called Monkey Trial involving Scopes, a high school teacher who lets himself be arrested when he taught the Theory of Evolution and whose lawyer, Clarence Darrow, trashed the state’s attorney William Jennings Bryan in an eight-hour interrogation (which was the subject of the enormously entertaining play “Inherit the Wind”).

Yes, Virginia, there really are Pastafarians in the world, who, instead of lecturing people, use the arguments of religious people to show the arbitrary nature of a faith in supernatural beings. In fact Franklin Foer did an article in the Atlantic magazine of November 2016 about Flying Spaghetti Monster acolytes across the Continent who are a genuine organized movement “founded in large part to critique organized religion…[with] the trapping and some of the social functions of a real religion.” He notes that their Sabbath is on a “Friday, because our god was faster than the other gods, and he finished with the creation of the Earth earlier.” New Zealand became the first country to legally recognize marriages.

Leave it to the U.S., a generally more religious country than much of Europe, to deny a Nebraska prisoner’s request to practice the Pastafarian faith, ruling FSM a parody and not a religion. The Netherlands went the other way granting the group official status. “If you are not satisfied,” notes 24-year-old Bobby Henderson, “Your old religion will likely take you back.”

“I, Pastafari” is a broadly humorous movie with a consequential metaphysical philosophy, marred only by an insistence on intrusive music in the soundtrack, as though director Michael Arthur in his freshman offering does not trust the theater audience to know when the Pastafarians are messing with our mind. And hey, it’s only 56 minutes long, so what can you lose (except your faith)? R’amen.

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

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

I, OLGA HEPNAROVA – movie review

  • I, OLGA HEPNAROVA

    Outsider Pictures and Strand Releasing
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda
    Written by: Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda, story by Roman Cilek “Ja Olga Hepnarova
    Cast: Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlat, Klara Meliskova, Marika Soposka, Juraj Nvota, Marta Mazurek, Zuzana Stavna
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 3/14/17
    Opens: March 24, 2017

    Murder is a man’s game.  There are far more Ted Bundys than there are Lizzie Bordens.  In fact so few women commit murder worldwide that you remember the few who have committed the ultimate offense.  Still, one wonders how many people outside of the Czech Republic heard of Olga Hepnarova, who not only killed eight people at once but was the last woman executed in her country.  Now there’s Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s “I, Olga Hepnarova, a film which could inspire more people to order Roman Cilek’s paperback book from Amazon, where it lies awaiting a single review.

    The facts, however cherry-picked, could have been made into a Hollywood blockbuster film, an intense melodrama like Robert Wise’s 1958 movie “I Want to Live,” featuring Rita Hayworth as Barbara Graham who is executed for murder.  Or it could have been done in the style of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1989 “Dekalogue,” a series of films based on the 10 Commandments one of which involves not only murder but a grisly look at what happens to a condemned criminal at the moment he is hanged.  In fact, “Olga,” like “I Want to Live,” is done in a film noir manner, but is more like “Dekalogue,” in that the nourish, black-and-white photography by Adam Sikora exudes a color-free image of cinema verité journalism.  Director Tomas Weinreb is known to Czech audiences for his “Vsechno Je Sraka” about a fellow who spent half a year in a relationship with a murderer before the crime (so this movie is right up his alley). Petr Kazda shares the director’s chair in his freshman film.

    It’s easy to figure out the bleak, black-and-white tone of the film: it’s a reflection of the troubled mind of Olga Hepnarova (Michalina Olszanska), a young woman who was abused or ignored by her father (Vickor Vrabek) and mother (Klara Meliskova).  Her mother is a dentist whose communication with Olga goes little further than writing prescriptions for drugs that could ease the young woman’s confused mind.  Olga perhaps exaggerates the extent of her bullying by women her own age and her parents, even her teachers.  We don’t see much of it on screen.   Why is she the one who is picked on, since after all, bullied subjects are generally outliers in their communities?  This could be because of her introversion, her unwillingness to connect with others, or maybe even her lesbianism, which she discovered late in her teens leading her into a brief relationship with Jitka (Marika Soposka).  But Jitka threw her over for one Jana, her regular bedmate, leading Olga to travel further down the road to depression.

    Theme-wise, there’s nothing new about a woman who thirsts for revenge against a society that she believes he done her wrong.  The more melodramatic film on the subject, “Carrie,” shows the title figure bringing mayhem upon her town through telekinesis.  Olga has no super-powers, but this woman, who is considered a tomboy and therefore given a job as the driver of a truck, one day mows down twenty elderly people on the sidewalk, killing eight.  She dooms herself several times: first by telling the arresting officer, who suggests that she fell asleep at the wheel or that the brakes did not hold, “I did it on purpose.”  Then she begs the five-judge panel to give her the death penalty so that her crime would achieve international coverage, leading the greater society to see what harms are committed by bullying.

    As stated, this is not a movie for “Carrie” fans or for advocates of blockbuster melodrama, but is rather a serious, sometimes ponderous work involving several instances of the camera’s simply standing till in an empty hallway, or gazing at Olga’s face, which is usually downcast and sad.  The most significant feature, one that could lead to appreciation for an audience not too big on stasis, is Michalina Olszanka’s somber performance of the troubled lass.  She served as a memaid in Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure” and later this year in Andrey Malyukov’s “Sobibor,” based on a true story about an escape from an extermination camp.  You can believe that she can kill.

    “I, Olga Hepnarova” was filmed in Dolnoslaskie, Poland with dialogue in Czech.  There is no mood music on the soundtrack.  Did I say this is serious stuff?

    Unrated.  105 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

I, TONYA – movie review

  • I, TONYA

    Neon
    Director:  Craig Gillespie
    Screenwriter:  Steven Rogers
    Cast:  Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/7/17
    Opens: December 7, 2017
    I, Tonya - Movie Poster (thumbnail)  9 versions
    Poster
     3375*5000 px

    The sports movie of the year is not about boxing or wrestling, baseball or football; and the sport does not include men.  The film is “I, Tonya,” well on its way toward gaining nominations and wins from scores of groups handing out end-year awards.  What makes it tops?  That’s because it combines some dramatic footage on ice ranks devoted to figure skating champions with a brilliant look at a socioeconomic class, parts of which have no problem insulting, hitting, bashing, even crippling those who stand in their way or who are defiant.  In other words “the deplorables.”   “I, Tonya” also takes on the themes of a psychological thriller, a crime story, one that involves Tonya Harding, a top-flight, Olympic-level figure skater who was banned from skating for life by a federal judge who found her guilty of interfering with a prosecution. (I didn’t think a judge had that authority, which I thought rested with boards such as that governing the Olympics, but there’s a lot I learned and possibly much that you too will come away with after seeing this exceptional drama.)

    Australian director Craig Gillespie, whose principal movie before this one, “Lars and the Real Girl” (a delusional young man strikes up a relationships with a doll), focuses this time on a different kind of doll, one that is very much alive, passionate, planning and negotiating, an athlete who is not simply another muscular guy who gets interviewed on TV but whose entire life is a worthy subject for a drama.  With some of the cast talking directly to the audience to fill us in on what’s going on, “I, Tonya” stars Margot Robbie as a 15-year-old right up to her 25th year: credit the wig people and makeup artists for converting a classy-looking actress as a hardscrabble, working-class woman who had in at least one instance is looked over by as a representative of her sport because she does not radiate a wholesome, family manner.

    Not wholesome?  Ask her mother, Allison Janney in a major supporting role as LaVona Golden, a cussing, cigarillo smoking, matriarch who might sometimes bash her daughter but who spends every dime of the money she earns as a coffee shop waitress on coaches for her daughter’s skating career.  Not knowing any better, Tonya, eager to leave her mother’s nest, marries Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), whose mustache is the object of his mother-in-law’s guffaws, and who gives Tonya the violent treatment that she thinks she deserves.  He is, however, interested in advancing his wife’s career—never mind that she at one point took out a protection order—to the extent that he plots with his friend and “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) to break the knee of Tonya’s leading competitor, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).  Bad move, one that not only fails to advance Tonya’s career but winds up with prison sentences for Gillooly and Eckhardt.

    Watch the snappy skating scenes, though I’m not sure I know how they get to show Margot Robbie’s face close up and convince us that it is she, the actress, who is actually skating.  A nice role as well for her coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) with a cameo for a hard copy producer, Bobby Cannavale, who from time to time lets us in on the progress of the story.

    Rated R.  119 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – A-