MOONLIGHT SONATA – Deafness in Three Movements – movie review

MOONLIGHT SONATA: Deafness in Three Movements
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky
Cast: Jonas Brodsky, Sally Taylor, Paul Taylor, Irene Taylor Brodsky,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/25/19
Opens: September 13, 2019

Poster

Ludwig Van Beethoven would be mighty proud if he could see “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements.” He would be thrilled even more if he received a cochlear implant and actually heard the world’s most famous sonata thanks to the inventive genius of André Djourno and Charles Eyriès who contributed the original cochlear implant in 1957. What’s more Ludwig Van would be amazed to note that the device is covered by Medicare, which makes the composer eligible for free surgery now that he’s 249. The film is directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky who in 2007 gave us a prequel “Hear and Now” about her deaf parents, which puts this film squarely in her métier. Nor is there anything particularly political on the subject as is Josh Aronson’s “Sound and Fury.”

 

There are abundant both animated shorts and archival films of the director’s parents and of the star, Jonas Brodsky. “Moonlight Sonata” shows that handicaps can be overcome given the kind of motivation possessed by the principal character or, when necessary as with Jonas’s grandfather, given up with dignity as grandpa Paul Taylor was urged to do when early onset dementia made driving safely no longer guaranteed.

Jonas stars as a strikingly handsome lad shown mostly when he is thirteen or fourteen years of age, with clear skin and a thick mop of light brown hair, often relating to his 78-year-old grandfather Paul whom he obviously loves, the feeling fiercely reciprocated. He is fond of his piano teacher, who is not the type to robotically boost the lad’s ego like so many school teachers today but who insists on long practice. She tells him when his playing rates a 2 out of 6. Strict teachers who demand much of their students wind up either causing the young ‘uns to drop out or to shine with the satisfaction of accomplishment—a feeling you get only when you have worked diligently toward perfection.

Jonas’ folks are obviously upper-middle class given their spacious, split level home nicely furnished and providing warmth for its residents—who include the filmmaker, her husband, Jonas, and the boy’s two brothers. It’s not clear whether Ms. Brodsky’s parents live within but they surely spend considerable time with the Brodskys and talk a lot with the kind of speech that is intelligible but challenging. Their cochlear implants may have given them the gift of sound, but as that they would born deaf cannot allow them the clear speech that most of us take for granted.

Jonas may be a musical prodigy albeit one whose piano playing does not match that of the child Mozart, but he is always a kid who acts his age, having fun through puppyish discussions with his piano teacher, sometimes shaking his head as would a dog when splashing off rain. Still, he takes music seriously enough to be frustrated at every mistake and tries to interpret his teacher’s meaning when she insists that her pupil is technically proficient but falling short of expressing Beethoven’s sadness in becoming deaf.

An exhilarating moment arrives at the conclusion as Jonas wows the crowd at a concert organized by his teacher, who has given joy to a group of young people through their experience with music. The HBO documentary released by Abramorama a must-see for those who want more insight into the disability of deafness and folks who enjoy watching coming-of-age docs that are brimming with emotion without syrupy melodrama. “Moonlight Sonata” is filmed in beautiful Portland, Oregon by the director and Nick Midwig.

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

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

PAVAROTTI – movie review

PAVAROTTI
CBS Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Cassidy Hartmann, Mark Monroe
Cast: Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Griminelli, Nicolette Mantovani, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, Carol Vaness, Vittorio Grigolo
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 6/4/19
Opens: June 7, 2019

Pavarotti Movie Poster

I had what passes for a discussion with a fellow who is fifty years younger than I am. Though a fan of movies like “Avenger” and “Terminator,” he wondered why people went to Broadway musicals. “It’s not real, I mean, people in ‘Oklahoma’ in its days as a territory did not start singing every twenty minutes. And where does the music come from? Are there orchestras wandering around the place waiting to be cued by a singing couple?” “Would you say the same about opera?” I queried. He thought for a minute and said that he heard the word “opera” spoken but had little idea of its meaning. “I countered: “In the 19th century in Italy, even coal miners went to opera. In fact the singers were the rock stars of the day, though it helped that in those days Puccini and Verdi were better known than Springsteen.”

If this sounds like fantasy, as though high-school kids can’t be that ignorant, ask twenty pupils from a typical public school to identify Luciano Pavarotti. Don’t be surprised if you get zero responses, though in the technologically primitive days of the 20th century you couldn’t miss his name, whether or not you heard him in concert or bought one of the one hundred million albums that he sold. Now Ron Howard brings forth a documentary with a boatload of archival film, the most precious being those involving snippets from favorite arias, combined with prescient interviews and sightings with folks like his manager, his producer, his two wives, and critics. “Pavarotti” fills us with momentous music including some of the singer’s high C’s (a pun for high seas), which orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta tells us could make our ears vibrate.

Luciano Pavarotti comes across through Paul Crowder’s virtuoso editing highlighting his zips and zaps of photos of the great man with and without a beard, with an expansive belly and not, singing to the point of tears as the clown in “I Pagliacci” and showing his teeth (quite often) when meeting such attention-getting people as Princess Diana—who in one scene is shown with hair completely disheveled when a large outdoor crowd at a concert closed their umbrellas during a pouring rain so better to see.

All you want to know about the facts of one of the most celebrated figures of the last century can be found in Wikipedia, which I recommend you peruse to prepare you for the rush of interviews, as the movie charges ahead at a rapid pace from concert hall to concert hall, opening up not in a large metropolis with an opera house in Modena, New York, or London but in the Brazilian Amazon where the singer is enjoying the boat ride which takes him and his entourage to a concert hall “in the middle of nowhere.”

All who know Pavarotti are aware that he was a tenor, along with potential revivals like Placido Domingo and José Carreras—both of whom have something to say and both of whom join Pavarotti in concert embracing their title as The Three Tenors. Because the film is largely hagiographic, it trips likely over his flaws, principally, of course, his relationships with women (whom he adored), but why not? After all he did raise big bucks for charities, graphically shown by his cause for the children of war-torn Bosnia—which gives director Ron Howard a single scene of bombs falling on Sarajevo. Pavarotti loves everybody and they love him back: his daughters Lorenza, Giuliania and Cristina and also his wife Adua Veroni, among millions of others. Director Howard exudes his affection for the man and is well qualified to direct this film, given his feelings for “The Beatles” (2016), the astronauts in “Apollo 13” (1995), and interviewer David Frost, enjoying a takedown of President Nixon in “Frost/Nixon” (2008).

Whether or not you care for the typical format of documentaries, namely interviews–of which you get plenty here– you can’t fail to embrace the incredible music that captures the Great Man at the top of his game.

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

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

HER COMPOSITION – movie review

HER COMPOSITION

Picturetrain Company
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Stephan Littger
Screenwriter: Stephan Littger
Cast: Joslyn Jensen, Heather Matarazzo, Lulu Wilson, Christian Campbell, Margot Bingham, Rachel Feinstein, Kevin Breznahan, John Rothman, Meg Gibson
Screened at: Amazon Prime, NYC, 7/27/18
Opens: On DVD May 1, 2018. Originally viewed theatrically in 2015 and available now to Amazon Prime members for no extra charge.

Her Composition (2015)

Artists are different from you and me. They see and hear things more creatively than the masses of people. Because of this, while they may have more joy from what they’re doing than accountants and burned-out physicians, most find it difficult to pay the bills. What artists crave above all, maybe even more than money, is inspiration, without which they will feel unfulfilled and ultimately driven into the cruel world of routine jobs.

Do you know people like that? If not, you will meet one such person, maybe even an icon in her ability to demonstrate the frustrations that come from a failure of inspiration. Maybe they will blame others, as this young woman did, and maybe they realize that fifty percent of the problem is not from society but from their own paucity of imagination. This young women, Malorie Gilman (Joslyn Jensen), is having difficulties, both financial and artistic. As a student in one of New York’s most prestigious conservatories, Malorie is told by the dean that the scholarship she needs to continue her studies has been awarded instead to a man. She blames the patriarchy at first before realizing that while women are still not treated right in our republic, moaning about injustices will neither pay the landlord nor give her satisfaction. So her Brooklyn apartment is going up $200 a month. So her dull accountant boyfriend Arthur (Ryan Metcalf), is dropping her. So she’s about to be discarded by the conservatory. Happily, help comes along that will solve her problems, both financially and artistically. We should all be so lucky.

Her friend Gila (Margot Bingham) works for a women’s rights organization, attracting the attentions of Kim (Okwui Okpokwasili), who is willing to turn over a list of her clients for possible FBI prosecution. Kim wants the info to be delivered to Gila, a list of clients with each one’s fetishes, though she praises her favorite guy as “romantic.” Instead Malorie keeps the documents and, bypassing escort agencies, contacts a few of the men herself. Somehow, though these fellows all dug a black escort, they are all fine with a skinny white woman who is on the shy side and at first does not really know what to do in bed to warrant payments of $1500 to $4500 a night. She makes heaps of money, but mirabile dictu, she uses her sexual experiences to write a thesis project for the school, one which she hopes would allow her to proceed with her doctoral studies.

In fact she mixes her bed times with sounds of the city—African drummers in Washington Square park, the vroom of the subway, people’s chit-chat. Now she is not only a composer: she is a painter who, after rolling white paint on her walls uses her new creativity in the service of an unusual cartography. She knocks out a map of New York on the wall with arrows pointing to the men she has been servicing. I don’t know if you find this concept appealing. In fact you may be more interested in the sex scenes, a few of which could qualify as soft porn in the style of “Fifty Shades of Gray.” The most sensual scenes are with the romantic, a hip bearded fellow who, given the sculptures in his apartment could mark him as a world traveler. The scariest is with a guy in a New York Sheraton Hotel who makes sure to double lock the door and who in one scene does something to cause Malorie to fight him off.

This movie is the feature of Stephan Littger, who also wrote and edits the film and whose previous work, “Toxic Oranges:* a Wall Street Fairy Tale” is about a homeless seller of oranges on Wall Street who gains success by inventing a credit system. This marks him as a man with the imagination to create movies with fairy tale implications, the trippiness of “Her Composition” serving as a sharply edited bit of cinema with stunning sound effects, segments of musical compositions, and a story that makes the most of sounds—city scenes and sexual unions—that are transformed by one creative person into surprisingly absorbing music.

As for Malorie, Joslyn Jensen is in virtually every frame captured by Andres Karu’s lenses, sometimes in extreme close-up, sometimes with her hair in a bun (not attractive) and other times free flowing (yes!). Her emergence from a timid, frustrated near-failure to an assertive woman thanks to her sexual experiences (which only an artist would be able to translate into painting and music) is oddly credible. And the film is a love letter to New York; its subways, its diversity, its schools, and the creativity it offers to those who can profit artistically.

Unrated. 92 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HEARTS BEAT LOUD – movie review

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

Gunpowder & Sky
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brett Haley
Screenwriter:  Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Cast:  Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 5/16/18
Opens: June 8, 2018

Young people about to head off to out-of-town colleges are naturally excited about the idea, though they may think they will become homesick missing the folks and local friends.  An equal reaction can be found in the parents who have been exposed to the anxieties of empty nest syndrome.  You might be surprised to know that marriages can break up when the kids are gone.  What’s left to talk about when you’re just husband and wife?  There’s no wife in “Hearts Beat Loud,” since the woman of the house had died eleven years before, and the bereaved husband, Frank (Nick Offerman), dreads what’s coming–living alone under his roof.  He has been quite a satisfactory father to his one daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), their bond remaining strong because they have an equal love for songs—he on the electric guitar and she with an angelic voice that can really hit the high registers.  But Frank is faced with losing his vinyl record store in Brooklyn’s colorful Red Hook section at the same time that Sam is about to depart for UCLA.  With his friendly landlady Leslie (Toni Collette) insisting that she has been forced to raise his rent, he has no choice but to close down and wonder how he will meet his 18-year-old’s tuition and other expenses when she is 3,000 miles away.

“Hearts Beat Loud” is a low-key coming of age drama, a musical, and at the same time a focus on Frank who goes so far as to ask his daughter to take a year off and work on playing together in a musical enterprise now that he has received a flurry of hits when he uploaded a new song to Spotify.  He thinks he can even carve out a living since, of all things, the song is on a playlist with Iron & Wine and Spoon.  Sam, a top student bound for a pre-med curriculum at UCLA,has a love interest, Rose (Sasha Lane), though not much more than kissing is shown on screen.  To relieve his worries, Frank stops often by Sunny’s bar where Dave (Ted Danson) relives his “Cheer” days mixing drinks and serving as Frank’s pal as well.

This is not the kind of musical you’d expect on Broadway.  It’s no “Chicago” or the new version of “My Fair Lady,” but it does have songs now and then, all with bouncy beats.  Still, aside from sweetness which is always in style when the tone is not down-and-out saccharine, there is not enough going from the plot, and we might have expected more to come from director Brett Haley, whose “I’ll See You in My Dreams” about a widow and a songstress show that life can begin anew at any age and whose “The Hero” starring Sam Elliot about an ailing movie star confronting his mortality has more depth.  Blythe Danner shows up almost in cameo as a dotty grandmother to the budding young vocalist.

Rated PG-13.  97 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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