SAINT JUDY – movie review

SAINT JUDY
Blue Fox Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sean Hanish
Screenwriter: Dmitry Portnoy
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Leem Lubany Alfred Molina, Alfre Woodard, Common, Peter Krause
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC 3/1/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

Poster

If you’re a Trump supporter you are likely to be outraged by “Saint Judy.” If you consider yourself a soul buddy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you will cheer. However if you are not fond of movies that ooze sentimentality, that have predictable conclusions in which even those who prosecute cases against asylum seekers for ICE move to the left, you will be disappointed, pardon my cynicism. Director Sean Hanish demonstrated his interest in movies that tug the heartstrings in ”Return to Zero,” covering a couples doubts about pregnancy.

“Saint Judy” has its heart on its sleeve, based on a true case fought by Judith Wood (whom we see in the final scene). However it’s difficult to believe that an asylum seeker from Afghanistan can speak perfect English, and with an American accent rather than the British one from which non-English speaking people in the Middle East get instruction. Of course she is beautiful and confident. It is also difficult to accept the court process by which this asylum seeker gets the full attention for two days of a federal judge and then the opportunity to take her battle to an appeals proceeding followed by a large audience of spectators.

Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), the title figure, has spent ten years as a public defender, a woman with a zeal and knowledge of the law willing to give up the big bucks that she could probably get in private law assisting people with money. She moves from New Mexico to California opening a clinic to handle clients who do not have much of a voice. Her prior boss (Alfred Molina) is burned out, once a firebrand known for helping people like ones Judy is dealing with but now having faced the reality of putting his two kids in college. Judy visits Asefa (Leem Lubany) in a detention center, finding her disheveled and unresponsive, drugged into a near comatose condition. When Asefa is ready to talk she tells the story of how she was attacked in her native village by men because she is teaching female children to read. In jail she is raped repeatedly. She now claims asylum, insisting that if she is deported, she will be killed by her family for “dishonoring” them. She has the chutzpah to be raped and is considered a fallen woman. Flashbacks to Afghanistan show Asefa marching boldly to school with a group of girls only to be pelted with stones.

Discouraged by her boss who thinks the case is a loser, Judy presses on, setting up a two-days’ trial in front of Judge Benton (Alfre Woodard with the government side handled by Benjamin Adebayo (Common). Adding to the glitz and commercialism of the film she has to deal with her ex-husband Matthew (Peter Krause) who accuses her of spending all her time on her clients, neglecting domestic bliss. He gives her name of Saint Judy as a pejorative.

We’re in Erin Brockovich country, highlighting an idealistic woman who fights so card for her clients (actually she has only one client) that she can’t pay any of her bills nor can she keep the electricity on in her office. Monaghan shows her pluck, but the idealism, jacked up by James T. Sale’s pop music in the soundtrack, turns what could have been a more powerful, authentic film into slick commercialism.

Filmed in Santa Clarita, California.

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

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

EN EL SEPTIMO DIA – movie review

EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA (On the Seventh Day)

Cinema Guild
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jim McKay
Screenwriter: Jim McKay
Cast: Fernando Cardona, Gilberto Jimenez Núñez, Abel Perez, Genoel Ramírez, Alfonso VelazquezScreened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/29/18

Poster

On the seventh day God rested, never worrying that a boss would tell him that he has to work on Sunday. Not the case for an ordinary mortal like José, an immigrant from Mexico working as a delivery man for a high-end restaurant in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. José is not only the best worker that restaurateur Steve (Gabriel Núñez) has on his staff. He is also captain and best player of a soccer team named for the Mexican town of Puebla. Here’s the movie’s big conflict. The Puebla team has made the semi-finals in soccer. The group will play the finals on a Sunday and without José they are sure to lose. When La Frontera restaurant schedules a birthday party on Sunday funded by a high roller, Steve needs his entire staff present. Days off are canceled. If José chooses to play in the finals, he will be fired. If he chooses work at the restaurant on what should have been his day off, his team will lose. How would you choose?

“En el Séptimo Día is under the direction of Jim McKay using his own script, a filmmaker best known for directing some TV episodes like “The Good Fight,” “Law and Order,” and “Bosch” but whose last full-length feature “Everyday People” about the closing of restaurant resulting in a loss of jobs, shows that he has the common touch. Here McKay has picked up a group of young, energetic, non-professional actors, Mexicans who live together at a place in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. They horse around, they give advice, they tease one another and are an all-around bunch of good guys. José gets conflicting counsel from the people in his circle. The more reasonable ones, knowing that he expects to bring his pregnant wife Elizabeth (Loren Garcia—seen only on Skype) up to Brooklyn to be with him, requiring him to make enough money and get good references to support her and the child she is carrying. To most of us in the movie audience, the choice is clear, particularly since he knows he can get another job in a similar capacity though he insists that he wants to work only at La Frontera.

Yet José refuses to let his team down. How he manages to solve the problem and with the help of Elmer (Gilberto Jimenez) a young man who watches the game behind the fence and roots for the Pueblas, becomes the film’s most engaging and humorous action. Cinematographer Charles Libin knows how to give the working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn a look at a place that the great borough must have appeared decades ago before gentrification, not the kind of location that would prompt many of us in audience to visit where the big attraction is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with its spectacular nighttime view of the city skyline.

Throughout the movie José is riding his bike, pumping away vigorously even in the pouring rain when the wind blows his plastic raincoat into a balloon-like shape. He takes dangerous actions without wearing protective headgear (I say from experience that delivery people in Brooklyn simply don’t go for the prissy protection on their heads). That one of his teammates is sidelined with a knee injury received on the field does not worry him. When needed inside, he busses tables and washes dishes, trying now and then without success to convince manager Steve to give him the day off. Some of these young people may be undocumented but in New York City we fight to keep I.C.E. out of our territory. In the lead role Fernando Cardona does such a terrific job at projecting the life of a bilingual working class stiff that he can look forward to a bright future in the business. A solid entry by McKay after a fourteen-year break.

Unrated. 97 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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