SUMMERLAND – movie review

SUMMERLAND
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020

Poster

If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.

The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.

At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.

Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.

The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.

“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.

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

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

THE TWO OF US – movie review

TWO OF US (Deux)
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Filippo Meneghetti
Screenwriter: Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy, additional writing by Florence Vignon
Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker Muriel Benazeraf, Jérôme Varanfrain, Herve Sogne
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/19/20
Opens: July 10,  2020

Deux (2019)

A nine-year-old boy learns all about sex in his hygiene class at P.S. 103 augmented by discreet animated visuals that show him how it’s done. “EEEEEUUUU Gross,” he shouts, “My mom and dad would never do that!” Now imagine that a woman in her forties is about to discover that her mother, now in her seventies, is “doing it.” She realizes that granny must have done something or mom would not be here, but “at age seventy? And what? Wait a sec. With another woman!” Still this is France, not Saudi Arabia, so many middle-aged moms will come around. After all, Professor Henry Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) suggested, “The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.”

Joshing aside, “Two of Us” is a remarkably well-acted, exquisitely photographed chamber piece featuring two stellar performers who act out a scenario that must have jogged the imagination of so many of us, meaning: do people in their seventies have sex lives? And more specifically, do lesbians in their seventies have sex lives? If so, are their sons and daughters aware of this? (Yes Virginia, some lesbians have children of their own through marriage or less perilous means.) In this case Madeleine or Mado (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) have been lovers for decades. Living next door to each other in a town in the South of France, they have to sneak into each other’s apartment because theirs is a romance that not all French people can understand, least of all Madeleine’s mother Anne (Léa Drucker) and Anne’s brother Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain).

It may be hard to believe in these times, when most of the West—certainly France—has come to accept lesbianism, but sneak around they will, and their almost daily pas de deux gives this slice of life a comic touch. Filippo Meneghetti, who directs and co-wrote “Deux” as his first narrative feature scores big, and will hopefully evoke a deep emotional impact from his theater audience. The story begins simply, becoming more complex when the two principals realize that deux en compagnie de trois est une foule.

German expatriate Nina is next-door neighbor to Madeleine. They should have been able to be roommates but Madeleine, at any rate, fears the opprobrium of her daughter Anne. They plan to spend the rest of their lives in Rome but Madeleine gets cold feet and backs out of selling. Madeleine determines to come out of the closet with her daughter and son who are sure that their father was adored by her.

Their secret is complicated by Madeleine’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf) who believes that her job is being taken over by Nina, and senses the secret that Madeleine has kept from her son and daughter. At long last Anne and Frédéric are on to Madeleine, are understandably shocked, though the single moment when Anne discovers her mother’s secret is both amusing and melodramatic.

No scenes are wasted in a pas de deux that could easily fit on your TV or on an off-Broadway stage. The storytelling is crisp, to the point and forms a terrific palette for a dance that to my memory is thoroughly original.

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

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

RED COW – movie review

RED COW
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tsivia Barkai Yacov
Screenwriter: Tsivia Barkai Yacov
Cast: Avigayil Koevary, Gal Toren, Moran Rosenblatt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/28/19
Opens: June 4, 2019 at the JCC in New York

Image result for red cow movie posters

The five books of the Hebrew Bible contain information about Jewish customs in ancient times, and specifically, in the fourth book, Numbers 19:2 there appears this item. “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.” In other words a sacrificial cow must be a redhead, must never have worked, and must be without flaws. Does anybody today put this ancient ritual to use? Surprisingly, one fellow in Jerusalem-born Tsivia Barkai Yacov’s feature length directing debut actually raises a red heifer as a calf preparing to do just that, despite the affection that this fellow’s teen daughter has for the shy and lonely animal kept outside their home. Specifically Yehoshua (Gal Toren), a politically extreme Orthodox Jew believes that the sacrifice will bring about an age in which Jews would no longer be banned from walking on the sacred Temple Mount in the holy city.

His daughter Benni (Avigayil Koevary), who chafes under her dad’s helicopter upbringing, is confused about religion, politics, and especially sexuality. She hears her father’s lectures to like-minded right-wingers who protest a possible evacuation from their illegal East Jerusalem settlement, but she cannot for the life of her understand what’s happening to her country politically. (The action takes place before the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a Jewish zealot opposed to his leader’s willingness to give up territory to Palestinians.) And though she is awakened by her father regularly and forced to put on Tefillin with him (the Tefillin contains parchments from the Bible), she has no particular feel for religion.

Most important, when Benni meets Yael (Moran Rosenblatt), more or less the same age but more mature, she is drawn to her. Their mutual feeling results in a lesbian relationship, which is trouble, because Judaism does not condone homosexuality. Dad senses what’s going on between the two girls but restrains himself for the sake of his daughter, though similar leniency may not be in store for Yael. (The scene where the two young women “get it on” is filmed tastefully. Sorry.)

“Red Cow” has universal resonance given that Yehoshua mourns the death of his wife in childbirth, and at the time of the film’s action is sitting Shiva for his own mom, Benni’s grandmother. Yehoshua is so wrapped up in religion and politics that he hasn’t much of a clue on how to deal with his girl’s sexual coming of age, nor can Benni “come out” given that she cannot confess her feelings to another adult notwithstanding her attendance in a class in sexual education. Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov behind the lens makes good use of close-ups, allowing us in the audience to read Benni’s emotions, as she gives in to her rising sexual needs both with and without her young partner.

Extremist politics is woven seamlessly into an intimate family drama, the three principal performers doing their jobs with authenticity. Leaving the film, I felt that Benni will manage to make accommodation with her community but her dad is destined to drive his daughter completely away. Still, I felt bad particularly for the fate of that cute red calf and disgusted by people who feel a need to conform literally to the Bible, not only for the silliness of animal sacrifice but for the prohibition against homosexuality..

“Red Cow” was selected for the Israel Film Festival and will open in New York at the JCC on June 4.

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

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

COLETTE – MOVIE REVIEW

COLETTE

Bleecker Street and 30 West
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Screenwriter: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 8/1/18
Opens: September 21, 2018

Colette Movie Poster

If you think that Paris has always been a sophisticated city with a reputation for progressivism, think again. Though Renoir’s paintings were accepted by Parisians, the impressionist painter had to bear with years of bad reviews. And in 1913, when Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was first performed on the Paris stage, there were outright riots as the audience had never heard tones such as those played by the mournful bassoon, the dissonance that has become the watchword of contemporary music, or the knock-kneed women that appeared on the stage when the overture was completed. The public, in fact, had been prepared with choice vegetables, looking for a fight, people who, if they were an elite attending a concert, could be mistaken for some of the deplorables that Hillary cited in her campaign.

But, you say, Paris is still the city of love! Yes, except that while women could be accepted as companions for men three times their age, not so long ago, homosexuality could not. In one of the melodramatic incidents in a movie that moves along smoothly without Hollywood-style mayhem, the crowd became antagonistic only when two women kiss each other on stage. Director Wash Westmoreland, whose “Still Alice” investigates problems when a linguistics professor and family have their bond tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, now finds the title character’s bond with her husband tested as well. There’s plenty of conflict in his “Colette,” a biopic of one of France’s great novelists, who during most of her career suffered the indignity of ghost-writing salacious novels for her husband Willy (Dominic West), the much older husband who notes that a woman simply could not be published in Europe in the early twentieth century. Like the couple in Björn Runge’s “The Wife,” dealing with a talented woman whose books were published under the name of her husband, “Colette” demonstrates yet another way that today’s #MeToo feminism is the happy background for writers and directors who try to compensate for society’s prejudice against creative females.

“Colette” could probably do just fine with any reputable star in the lead role, but Keira Knightley’s awards-worthy performance allows the film to soar both emotionally and intellectually. Though some will grouse that a French woman is the subject of a movie produced in the UK with British actors, you would do well to overlook that and enjoy the delightful unfolding of a career centered on a woman who could have spent her life in obscurity had she not decided to break away from her husband and knock out novels with her own name.

The film opens in 1893 when Colette (Keira Knightley), a country girl from Burgundy, is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a fake novelist who runs a stable of ghost writers and is now to include his beautiful wife among the serfs. One may wonder how Colette put up with the womanizer who even at age 46 had women in the early twenties throwing themselves at him. Noting that his wife, who in at least one instance is locked up in a room with the demand that she spend four hours writing before being freed, emerges with pages showing considerable spice. Willy sees a way out of his perpetual poverty brought about by gambling, dining and whoring. After the repo guys take away his furniture, he is saved financially when Colette” Claudine at School” becomes a best seller.

Colette turns out to be bisexual, carrying on an affair with an American from Louisiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), using her experiences as juice for future novels. The most interesting attraction is between Colette and Missy (Denise Gough), a woman who resembles Ellen De Generis with her suit, close hair style, and masculine carriage.

As with blockbuster thrillers, the women come out on top, so to speak, Colette gets revenge, divorcing her miserable husband, and goes on to write thirty novels. The picture, scripted by the director, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is constructed in a conventional manner (unusual, perhaps, considering the sexual progressivism of the theme) and is not only a great story but highlights a marvelous Keira Knightley as a turn-of-20th-century feminist.

Unrated. 111 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

DISOBEDIENCE – movie reveiw

DISOBEDIENCE

Bleecker Street
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Screenwriter: Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 4/17/18
Opens: April 27, 2018

Sociologists like Robert Putnam’s whose book “Bowling Alone” deals with the deterioration of community life in America have their theories seconded just this month of April by Jonah Goldberg of National Review magazine and David Brooks of the New York Times. They assert that our society has become atomized: that with the proliferation of TV channels, the indulging of hundreds of Facebook friends whom you may never even see and speak with in person, leave us lonely and depressed. During the hippie days of the late sixties and early seventies some people tried a different way of live in communes as did the utopian communities in the 19th century. If you want to see genuine community life today, however, as a contrast to current theories, you could find it among Hasidic Jews and in many cases ultra-Orthodox Jews, who live in insular societies, teach fellow Jews or serve as merchants to their own religious folks, and rarely mix in the outside world. If this sounds claustrophobic to you, remember that these spiritual and highly religious people have with few exceptions maintained their insularity and so far as what outside societies can see they are happy. They are not atomized.

But what about the few renegades who cannot abide by such restricted lives? Think of Deborah Feldman whose book “Unorthodox: the Scandalous Rejection of Hasidic Roots,” led to an enraged response among the people she left when she moved to New York’s Greenwich Village. Now the Orthodox community we find in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s film probably seems to us in the audience to be not only closely knit but pretty pleased with the way they live. One clue to their well being is that only one woman chooses to break out of the London neighborhood and move to New York to pursue a career as a hip photographer . She’s still Jewish, but she’s not about ever to return to her roots where she would be expected to marry whether the relationship is loveless or not and to have sex every Friday night among other rituals, whether she was in the mood of not.

In “Disobedience,” we are given a close examination of three people who grew up as friends but whose lives are changed probably forever when one woman leaves the nest and is shunned by others in the congregations. As a bonus, we also see services in the synagogue, listening to the harmonic tones of a choir and the wisdom of two sermons. As a special treat we are in the presence of
three special performers, also directed with a crescendo of power that takes us from quie t talks around the Sabbath table to a verbal explosion that show how the repressions built up for months and years are sudden let out.

After Rav Kruschka, the rabbi of a London ultra-Orthodox congregation drops dead while giving a sermon about our fundamental choice to live like the angels or like the beasts, his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who had left the congregation and her immediate family some time back to pursue a secular career in New York, returns for the funeral. Some, like her childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) are not pleased to see her and greet her with a mechanical “I hope you have a long life.” On the other hand, Dovid’s wife Esti (Rachel McAdams) is overjoyed. During the time that Ronit stays in the home of Dovid and Esti, the sexual attraction between her and Esti is revived, hinting that Ronit may have been pressured out of the community when some kissing between the two women was discovered. Since you can’t easily defeat nature, the two carry on but are caught kissing once again by neighbors (imagine if they witnessed an entire, graphic lovemaking scene between the two women)! By contrast Esti, whose sexual scene with her husband involves no foreplay, the two covered by a blanket. Esti must choose to remain in her marriage, and in effect whether to remain at all with the greater family of religious men and women.

The film is shown without flashbacks but rather with a conventional style that belies the unconventional manner of the two women. As a retired teacher, I was particularly impressed with the lovely classes taught by both Esti in a religious school and Dovit, around a table where sections of the bible are interpreted.

The conclusion is both heartbreaking and wonderful, a testament to the solid performances of all three principals, with scenes from the choir at the religious service so enchanting that Gentiles in the audience may wish to convert.

With this film, director Lelio’s place among the great Latin-American directors is assured, a man whose “A Fantastic Woman,” dealing with a transgender waitress who works as a night-club singer, confirms his predilection for films with renegades.

Rated R. 114 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE PARTY – movie reveiw

THE PARTY

Roadside Attractions
Reviewed by : Harvey Karten
Director: Sally Potter
Screenwriter: Sally Potter
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/8/18
Opens: February 16, 2018

The Party Movie Poster

This is the kind of party that only academics might enjoy, professors in a graduate faculty at that. Despite the numerous bon mots and the writer-director’s attempts to have the ensemble cast show their fangs, as a locus for the release of emotional tensions this film cannot begin to compare with the king of the circuit, Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” We may have a case of a viewer’s preference for a more American style of browbeating, which I offer by way of declaimer.

The chatter of this strange assortment of upper-middle class Brits might work better in the theater, since the action takes place in real time set wholly in an extensively furnished London home (actually filmed in a West London studio), with the women doing most of the talk and much of the witty liftings.

The dull and conventional ambiance here is a surprise given that Sally Potter has previous contributed “Orlando,” with the great Tilda Swinton performing in the role of a nobleman who stays forever young and moves through periods of British history, thereby giving the film a broad canvas on which to paint differences in centuries. Nor does “The Party” stand up to Potter’s “The Tango Lesson,” which finds Sally taught to dance by Pablo, forming a bond which later breaks when the two find that they want different things in a relationship.

Like the duo in “The Tango Lesson,” an ensemble of people who presumably were friends discover that maybe they don’t belong together, considering the barbs that emerge when some of the attendees discover what they must have barely suspected.

With soundtrack music at a minimum and black-and-white photography giving a more intimate feel for the occasion, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) invites pals to a night of talk as she celebrates her promotion to British Health Minister by an opposition party. Her hirsute husband Bill (Timothy Spall) seems comatose, having sat in a chair with wide eyes nursing a glass of red wine but otherwise keeping his body still.

The most entertaining guest (a low hurdle), Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), performs in the role of an aromatherapist, lecturing the group about the body’s capacity to heal itself without medicine and praising doctors who prescribe placebos to help further the cure. As April (Patricia Clarkson), once a leftist but now cynical about everything makes generic statements about civilization while Jinny (Emily Mortimer), pregnant with three triplets presumably not based on her lesbian relationship with Martha (Cherry Jones). Completing the ensemble, banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) is the most agitated of all not necessarily because he snorts a line in the hostess’ lavatory and packs a gun on his shoulder.

Secrets emerge: terminal illness meets extramarital affairs, the whole episode designed also to make points about the inability of establishment politicians to make real change and the changing nature of the women’s rights movement. The majority of critics so far appear to believe that humor can indeed travel well across the Atlantic, but to that concept I’ll have to join the loyal opposition.

Unrated. 71 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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