COLLECTIVE – movie review

COLLECTIVE
Magnolia Pictures/Participant
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alexander Nanau
Writer: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Cast: Narcis Hogea, Catalink Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Camelia Roiu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Collective (2019 film) - Wikipedia

During the final quarter hour of this Romanian documentary, you might swear that citizens of that Eastern European state are under the same pressures and problems as the we have in our U.S. politics. An election is held. Opponents of a party rife with corruption complain that those in awe of that reactionary group want to bring the country back to a former time. We hear that only a small percentage of people age 18-24 are voting—actually five percent, and even we in America have a bigger turnout of youths. Ultimately, the problems of Romania are felt in states around the world, as politics and corruption appear to go hand in hand.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster film “The Post,” “Collective” takes us to journalists, this time in Bucharest, though Alexander Nanau’s film deliberately lacks the pizazz brought about by music in the soundtrack (there is none here). Strangely, tales of bribery and mismanagement are being uncovered by a sports magazine. Since this is a documentary, professional actors are not used in favor of giving the cameras’ eyes to the actual people involved.

The writer-director, whose recent doc “Toto and His Sisters” tells of a family awaiting their mother’s return from prison, opens with the movie’s most melodramatic moments, a fire five years ago in a Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv, resulting in the deaths of twenty-seven and injuries over one hundred. Many hospitalized patients who died might have survived had they not been infected by highly resistant bacteria, doing their deed in the absence of effective sterility. In the principal role, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Catalin Tolontan, puts the potential story front and center, his staff taking pictures, following nurses and doctors on their rounds, ultimately to find that contrary to the view of the health minister, whose party will soon be up for re-election, the hospitals are unprepared. The disinfectant, Hexa Pharma, was watered down to just ten percent of its proper strength. The guilty
party is likely not the hospital but the pharmaceutical company, its CEO’s death in a car accident deemed a suicide.

The health minister had to go as well, Vlad Voiculescu taking his place. The genius of the film is that while I thought the meetings he held with his staff are reimagined but are actually photographed by the writer-director who is also behind the lenses. The crew is apparently given full access, a kind of transparency we wish were present within our own federal government.

Bribery is not the only corruption taken to task, as journalists under Tolontan discover that the entire health institution is rotten, bonding hospital administrators to the entire medical establishment presumably dipping their hands in the taxpayers’ money for their own use. The film was shot over fourteen months, with editing taking the better part of year. Aside from the film’s audience good luck in not having to listen to Hollywood-style music in the soundtrack, Nanau uses Tedy Ursuleanu’s testimony and her portraits to punctuate the damage done by the nightclub fire. She has a robotic hand that works just fine but her body is largely covered by burns. Hospitals are so ill equipped throughout the country that tourists should take note: if you get sick or have an accident in Romania, get your butt to Vienna’s treatment centers ASAP.

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

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

 

MR. JONES – movie review

MR. JONES
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter: Andrea Chalupa
Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Celyn Jones, Patricia Volny
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/20
Opens: June 19, 2020

Mr. Jones (2019)

“Mr. Jones” should be required viewing in every school of journalism from Columbia University down to the smallest community college in Nebraska. The true events on which “Mr. Jones” is based focus in part on the newspaper industry which was far more important in its time when everybody read the papers daily, a practice now largely abandoned by people absorbed more in their I-Phones than on reading about something greater than themselves. An intelligent viewer of this picture could not be faulted for noting the current relevance on display, when fake stores from Russia corrupt social media and when every paper whose editorial board leans left and Democratic is considered by the White House to be “failing.”

Warsaw-born Agnieszka Holland, whose “Europa Europa” unfolds a story of a Jewish boy hiding his religion by joining Hitler Youth, is a director who obviously thinks well beyond the rom-com and hyped-up melodrama, is well suited for the task, promoting the central motif that journalists must tell the truth as they see it. There is only one truth, and journalists who for material gain or sensationalist hype do anything to cover up the truth, they are guilty of hypocrisy and an outright betrayal of their (once) revered profession.

Mr. Jones (James Norton) pursues a fascinating story so perilous, so important to tell, that he appears willingly to risk his comfort and even his life. The tale tells of the Soviet Union’s starvation of at least five million peasants in Soviet dominated Ukraine, their farms collectivized and much of their produce shipped out of the country to Moscow. That view is considered controversial, even untrue, particularly by Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a reporter for the NY Times who made his mark after being accorded a private interview with Stalin. From that time he became the mouthpiece of the communist nation, and awarded a Pulitzer for his reporting of what became known as fake news. If Duranty’s sucking up to Russia no matter his personal feelings makes you think of what’s happening on Capitol Hill, you know enough about politics to join the audience of Saturday Night Live.

When Gareth Jones first appears in this shattering narrative film, he’s a kid, yet Britain’s Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) employs him as an adviser—a gig that ends when he is laughed out of a Cabinet meeting for suggesting that the UK would soon go to war against the Soviet Union. Out of the mouth of babes. He is given a reference by the prime minister upon which Jones commits forgery by erasing the sentence about his “former” service to the prime minister, changing that to “valued” service. He receives a journalist’s visa to the Soviet Union where he is expected to write about a Potemkin Village setup, refused admittance to the Ukraine where he smuggles himself in and sees first-hand the starvation and despair of farmers either driven from the land or forced to work in collectives.

Traveling by train as though a first-class tourist, he moves into the third-class compartment finding people without a crust of bread. Walking through the frozen depths of Ukraine farmland after trading a bit of food for a passenger’s overcoat, he finds vast reaches peopled by peasants without hope. (Not mentioned in the movie is that fact that the rich peasants were sent to the gulag or killed, while the masses who work the land have little motivation to produce anything save for their own private needs.)

One comes away from the picture assuming that Ms. Holland’s politics are as Orwellian as George Orwell himself, the latter played by Joseph Mawle. Mawle opens the movie by advising that he will discuss the failures of communism simply, in a book peopled by farm animals substituting for the various personages in a communist state.

Given the poignant scenes of starvation and frozen land with a particularly vivid coverage of a heroin-soaked party attended by a naked, drunk Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, “Mr. Jones” can he heartily recommended not only to the aforementioned journalism students but also to students on the secondary school level who have probably read “Animal Farm” and would be further enlightened by observing Soviet criminality on the screen.

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

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

SHOCK AND AWE – movie review

SHOCK AND AWE

Vertical Entertainment & Direct TV
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Rob Reiner
Screenwriter:  Joey Hartstone
Cast:  Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Rob Reiner, Milla Jovovich, Jessica Biel Tommy Lee Jones, Luke Tennie
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC 6/29/18
Opens: July 13, 2018
Shock and Awe Movie Poster
Our President lies so many times that each successive perseveration has little impact.  Psychologists say that when you say anything that comes to your head, you yourself will probably not realize that you are lying.  However sometimes a single lie is such a blooper, has so much significance, that it reshapes the world.  That lie came from President Bush, although you could say that he believed a lie told by Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi defector who hoped to become his country’s next leader.  That was that Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq whom the U.S. supported when that Middle Eastern country fought against Iran who now has weapons of mass destruction, or WMD’s that he might use against the United States.  Saddam was allegedly working on developing nuclear bombs and that he had, hidden somewhere, chemical and biological weapons that could havoc in the U.S.

Some people believe that Bush had an ulterior motive for attacking Iraq shortly after two planes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.  Bush’s father, according to the rumor, was being targeted for assassination by Saddam and Dubya, i.e. George W. Bush (as opposed to his father George Herbert Walker Bush) was out for revenge.  Only Bush 43 knows the real reason for going to war in Iraq, a conflict which resulted in 36,000 American deaths and injuries and over one million deaths and injuries in Iraq.

Along comes a newspaper, actually a consortium of newspapers under the Knight Ridder label, the only major media to contradict even the New York Times.  The paper of record goofed by going along with Bush and advocating for military action.  But Knight Ridder did not believe that Saddam had WMD’s, its staff members given death threats for unpatriotic actions, specifically because that paper stood alone in telling the truth.  “Shock and Awe” is based on Knight Ridder’s thorough investigation leading to its big, bold dissent.

However Rob Reiner, who directed and has a principal role, gives us a “War 101” study which however well-meaning is so elementary and so lacking the tension that we experienced with movies like “A Few Good Men” and even the more recent “The Post,”
that journalism students may be bored and so might anyone who had been following U.S. war games for decades, though it could be a primer for people who have even less interest in foreign policy than I have in Major League baseball.

Reiner uses archival films starring higher-ups in government like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (“there are unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know’), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, President George W. Bush, and featuring a dramatized Ahmed Chalabi.  The major players though are the reporters with Knight Ridder with 32 newspapers throughout the U.S.  As heroes in the struggle for truth, reporter Jonathan Landay is played by Woody Harrelson, James Marsden in the role of Warren Strobel, and Rob Reiner sits in for editor John Walcott, the man who hires Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), a war correspondent, for confirmation.  The thing about syndicates in America is that not every subsidiary is bound to follow the leader, and in fact The Philadelphia Inquirer refused to join the Knight Ridder people in publishing their scoops.

Moments of tension are dramatized but not followed up.  During one evening as Landay and his wife Vladka (Milla Jovovich) prepare to cuddle, she breaks the mood by arguing with her husband insisting that his investigation will endanger the family (we see one example of a death threat taken against the reporters by Internet trolls). Nothing comes of that. In the movie’s one romantic thread, Warren Strobel and Lisa (Jessica Biel) go on a date in which she lectures the handsome but awkward gent about Middle Eastern politics that leaves him awed, but any intelligent middle school person studying politics at all would consider her information elementary.

The film’s sentimental and heartbreaking scene finds Adam (Luke Tennie) opening the movie by testifying about the Iraq War with a congressional committee, and in fact we see the explosion that severed his spinal cord in his very first day in Iraq and left him in a wheelchair.  The film’s script comes from Joey Hartstone, known for the more intelligent and less schmaltzy “LBJ”

Rated R.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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