ON A MAGICAL NIGHT – movie review

Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christophe Honoré
Screenwriter: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Chiara Mastoianni, Benjamin Biolay, Vincent Lacoste, Kolia Abiteboul, Camille Cottin, Carole Bouquet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/20
Opens: May 8, 2020

“The French don’t care what they do, actually, so long as they pronounce it properly.” So says Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” and if Higgins were present at the Cannes Film Festival watching “On a Magical Night,” he would be doubly assured. Under the direction of Christophe Honoré, a busy man whose “Les chansons d’amour” deals with a threesome evoking the mysteries and fragilities of love, is in his métier with “On a Magical Night.” When one character says “When should we die: in our 30’s, our 40’s?” we know we are dealing thematically with people who regret the passing years but who had used those periods to accumulate multiple partners. Maria Mortemart (Chiara Mastroianni) and Richard Warrimer (Benjamin Biolay) have been married for twenty-five years, affording Maria a bounty of male lovers, none gay even if the writer-director’s previous picture, “Sorry Angel” finds one Jacques in love with Arthur. Since Richard claims never to have cheated on Maria, he resents her infidelity.

The movie is theatrical, most action taking place in Room 212 (the original title is “Chambre 212”) and across the street in a hotel. Bringing to mind the Beatles’ “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64,” Honoré considers a question that has must have been asked by anyone with a pulse, “Would I have done anything different if I could reconsider my choice for a life’s partner?” The question is not resolved, but Honoré uses magical realism to examine the fantasies of Maria when, after an argument with Richard she moves to a hotel across the street and considers all the men she slept with during her marriage and the two principal women in her life as well.

So this time the cheater is not the man. Maria, a glamorous law professor, looks through the hotel window at Richard who, by now, is kicking up a storm, and spends the night receiving “visits” by Richard’s piano teacher Irène Haffner (Carole Bouquet at 60 years and Camille Cottin at 40), by her dead mother (Marie-Christine Adam), and by a succession of past lovers including one present one, Asdrubal Electorat (Harrison Arevalo). The men include Richard as a young adult (Vincent Lacoste) and as her teen student(Kolia Abiteboul). Stéphane Roger performs as La Volonté, a one-man Greek chorus singing like Charles Aznavour.

Much of the time she ponders her bedding Richard decades ago, which might have the audience wonder whether this technicality means that she is not really committing infidelity. Since this is a French movie, there’s lots of talk, largely of regrets, the veritable platoon of men and women taking up the space of the hotel room but giving Maria the freedom to conduct most of her truth-seeking chats with the piano teacher.

Light and fluffy like a French farce but played on a more somber and less over-the-top performances of Feydeau’s plays, “Chambre 212” might be just the thing we need since our globe went viral. The conclusion, a dance to forget your troubles to the bouncy tunes of Barry Manilow, may have been planned to have us in the audience forget for a while the seriousness of love and sex and life. For those of us curious to soak in trivia, you probably guessed that Chiara Mastroianni is the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni’s and Catherine Deneuve and that the two principals, Mastroianni and Biolay were once romantic partners.

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

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

CHANGE IN THE AIR – movie review


Screen Media Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Dianne Dreyer
Screenwriter:  Audra Gorman
Cast:  Mary Beth Hurt, Aidan Quinn, Peter Gerety, M. Emmet Walsh, Rachel Brosnahan, Macy Gray, Olympia Dukakis
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 10/4/18
Opens: October 19, 2018

There’s a ghost in Dianne Dreyer’s movie, but “Change in the Air” has nothing to do with Halloween.  Nobody gets stabbed, hacked, beheaded, shot, guillotined, or drawn and quartered. True, one old guy gets run down by a car, but no problem.  He comes back to life, only to painlessly die of a heart stoppage.  The only horror in the pic is the suburban community, a quiet place where doors are unlocked, neighbors barge in, mail is delivered on time, the cops are unlikely to ticket the neighbors they know.  In fact it is so quiet and peaceful that I’m reminded of the best in line (not an exact quote) in this year’s best drama so far, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Melissa McCarthy in an Oscar-worthy performance), “He died, Or moved to the suburbs.  I can’t tell the difference.” Don’t see this movie one day after you see the McCarthy gem.  “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” will make much of what follows mediocre or, in the case of “Change in the Air,” pretty terrible.

As Wren, Rachel Brosnahan is ideally cast since the young actress is an ethereal presence with her light blue eyes and her light clothing and face so white you might holler at the screen “Just put on a sheet as long as you insist on playing a ghost.”  We may wonder why she’s hiding from the police, who knock on her door only to find her hiding in the house (even though she presumably could disappear or turn into a bird).  Her next-door neighbor Jo Ann Bayberry (Mary Beth Hurt) tells her ornithologist husband Arnie Bayberry (Peter Gerety) that she’s lovely—three or four times.  Since Wren receives a full bag of mail daily, Jo Ann wonders whether she’s a speed-reader. She can’t resist allying with Josh (Satya Bhabha), the local postman, convincing him to join her in stealing a couple of letters and reading them.  The only person who is not nosy, Walter Lemke (M. Emmet Walsh), spends the movie time sitting and manspreading in a chair on the lawn.  No dialogue from him, which is fine.

It’s no secret that Alison (Rachel Zeiger-Haag), Jo Ann’s daughter, had passed away since, of course Wren knows all.  The only real conflict finds Moody (Aidan Quinn), the cop, arguing with the pharmacist who does not want to fill his script because it’s 6.01p and the pharmacy division closes at 6.

How does Wren shake up the town and wake up people who would come to life in an apartment in a thriving metropolis?  If it’s by a quick scene of magic realism in the end, I guess that would qualify.  If it’s another action, I must have missed it by dozing for the wrong half-minute.  If you read this carefully, you’ll know the antidote, one that will shake you up and maybe have the same effect on the suburban town.  Go see “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”  It will restore your faith in the movies.

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

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



    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos
    Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
    Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Rafey Cassidy, Bill Camp
    Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/11/17
    Opens: October 20, 2017
    The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Poster
    Greek mythology’s overriding theme is “Don’t mess with the gods,” an idea give some later resonance by Samuel Taylor Coleridge when the Ancient Mariner shoots an albatross.  Therein lies the title of this extraordinary film.  When Greek king Agamemmnon, kills a sacred deer, he is punished by Artemis, goddess of the hunt.  Agamemmnon can release himself from punishment only by killing his daughter Iphigenia.  The ancient myths all take place in the modern world as well. You need only find the right current metaphor and the Greeks will fill you in.  Yorgos Lanthimos’s film provides such an example.

    This concept of punishment for a flaw becomes the theme of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” though the only four-legged animal in this film is a large, obedient dog.  You could not get a better director for this kind of theatrical piece than Athens-born Yorgos Lanthimos, who in his recent movie “The Lobster” imagines a dystopian future in which single men are put into a hotel, each given 45 days to find a romantic partner or be changed into a brutish beast and sent into the woods.

    In the central role of “Sacred Deer,” Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a cardiovascular surgeon married to Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, shares his life as well with his two youngsters, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and twelve-year old Bob (Sunny Suljic).  Materialistically they have it made, living in a spacious, exquisitely decorated house, the children facing no greater problem for the doctor than Bob’s long hair, which dad jokingly threatens to cut off and make the boy eat it.

    As though to make up for this idyllic household, the doctor must face the wrath of Martin (Barry Keoghan), a sixteen-year-old, whose father, despite living a healthy life dies on the operating table during heart surgery.  We in the audience can see the surgery visibly in cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ close-up of a thumping heart in receipt of stitches.  The surgery may not have ended well, as the patient’s heart is thrown into a basket with the used uniforms.

    Feeling guilty about the botched surgery on Martin’s dad, Steven befriends the fatherless boy, who is grateful for the attentions, receiving gifts now and then and sounding like a fellow many moons ahead of his years.  He even invites the boy into his home for dinners, at which time daughter Kim falls in love with him and takes rides on his motorbike.  You’ve got to wonder, though, why Steven allows such visits given that the boy acts like a stalker, showing up in the hospital whenever he pleases without phoning ahead.  Martin also invites the doctor to his own, not-so-great home, getting him interested in a movie on TV, “Groundhog Day” chosen specifically by Martin, and going to bed early so that his widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone) can flirt with Steven.

    Call it a twist on the Greek tragic metaphor, but Steven is not simply a flawed human being messing with the gods: he plays a god himself, making life-and-death choices together with his anesthesiologist, Matthew (Bill Camp), a man who will figure in one of the many black-comic moments of this modern Greek-inspired tragedy.  You may note that young Martin’s aim in introducing the doctor into his home is not only to allow a flirtation with his mother, but also to see whether he could act like a mortal man.  He doesn’t.  As a result, Steven’s children are punished.  Make way for the supernatural.

    It’s amazing what a top-drawer, hugely imaginative  director can do, especially when accommodated by the superior performances of the movie’s ensemble. In the premier role, Colin Farrell, sporting a full beard and Irish accent courtesy of his Dublin birthplace, plays god convincingly with an exceptional role also by Barry Keoghan whose diabolical rendition of Martin is so effective that you might feel like jumping through the screen and strangling him.

    Rated R.  120 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?