THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT – movie review

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT
Intervention Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James Fletcher
Writer: James Fletcher
Cast: Jerry Springer, Piers Morgan, Van Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, Scott Adams, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Schmidt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: October 16, 2020, streaming October 27, 2020

The Accidental President - IMDb

Let’s take a risk. With all the talk of the chattering classes, the late night shows, the comedians, the pollsters, the professors, the cartoonists—and all the representatives of these groups serve as commentators on this latest film about Trump—“Let’s take a risk” says it all. Granted that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by almost three million votes, our Electoral College makes a mockery of democracy and put Trump over the top.

Yet though “Let’s make American great again” is still the watchword of the Republicans favoring our current President, “Let’s take a risk” would be a more accurate slogan to put on those red hats, so ubiquitous among voters among the 24% of adults without a four-year college degrees, living in rural areas, working with their hands. Some are racists, some are xenophobic, some are dumb, but many people with the same brains and qualifications of current Republicans in the Senate voted for Trump.

Using colorful film from the rallies, interjecting the opinions of over a dozen commentators, director James Fletcher in his freshman turn as filmmaker seeks to answer “How the hell did he win?” The answers include FBI director Comey’s report 11 days before the election that the agency is investigating Hillary’s 30,000+ emails and 32,000 deleted emails that may have hurt national security: Trump’s promise to brings jobs back from overseas, a pledge welcomed by all who felt ignored by the “regular” or “robotic” politicians: Trump’s simple showmanship, borne from his popular reality show, a charismatic crowd-pleaser on “The Assistant”: A feeling by whites that they are facing minority status in “their own” country: Secretary Clinton’s taking the swing state of Wisconsin so much for granted that she did not visit the state even once but concentrated instead on Texas, which was a sure loser for her.

Even never-Trumpists will be entertained by this documentary simply because they are watching one of America’s greatest showmen speaking to crowds regularly in the tens of thousands, having them eating out of his hand. “The Accidental President” follows on the heads of the excellent doc “Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” which takes a more partisan approach.

If you’ve been following politics the way so many Americans follow sports, you will not find a single bit of information that you did not know, but that’s not important. The film stresses entertainment over originality, and isn’t that enough to warrant your time?

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

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

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY – movie review

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Newman
Writer: Julia Newman
Cast: Michio Kaku, Michael Paley, Alice Calaprice, Herbert Freeman, Jr., Susan Neiman, Barbara Picht, Jürgen Renn, Ze’ev Rosencranz, Robert Schulmann, Milena Wazeck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: On Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon VOD & DVD

Still a Revolutionary - Albert Einstein (2020) - IMDb

Someone once said that the four people who have influenced today’s world the most were Jews: Jesus, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. Jesus influenced one the world’s great religions followed by some two billion people. Marx was the intellectual founder or a religion of its own, communism, which though not so popular today as it once was serves as a leading critique of capitalism. Freud, in his theory of the unconscious, believed that we know not what we do since most of our emotions come from the unconscious, and Einstein said that everything is relative, which is said to be a mighty important insight.

In her freshman documentary, Julia Newman focuses not on Einstein’s contributions to the laws of physics, which many people do not understand and which in my college compelled the professor to boost everybody’s grades or nobody would have passed. Instead she looks at the physicist’s moral code, not greatly different from that of people who are quite spiritual on Sundays. He followed the beat of a different drummer, opposing the rule of conformity that guides everyone with a smart phone.

For one, he opposed war. He criticized the march of extreme nationalism that led to a particularly stupid war in 1914, left Germany to be with his folks in Italy, then returned to his homeland (the only instance in which he was not smart) under the Weimar constitution. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitism of his southern German home that turned him away from the bullying. A teacher once brought a nail to the classroom, noting that Jesus was crucified with such, humiliating Albert who was the only Jewish person in the class.

The key word in this documentary is “compartmentalization,” the idea that we separate our lives into clear divisions: family, friends, work, politics. This explains that under the Nazis (1933-1945) a German soldier could love his kin and his dog, yet harbor murderous hate toward people who are not like him, or who he believes are not like him. Some men do not like women very much. Einstein spoke in favor of women’s rights. He was pro-choice, and being anti-nationalist did not at first believe that Jews should have a state of its own. He came around to favor the creation of Israel and enjoyed a friendship with its founder, David Ben-Gurion. He supported demonstrations for the rights of minorities and was friendly to Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Though brought up Jewish, he was a pantheist like Spinoza, believing “the whole universe is God,” a notion that is akin to atheism.

When he escaped from the Holocaust, winding up in New York, he abandoned his pacifism, holding that you have to meet force with force.

Though he was a celebrity, who mixed easily with people and could talk with anyone from kings to children, he was considered a luftmensch, naïve, an absent-minded Princetonian professor, a fellow who did not seem grounded. When he was scheduled to meet some big shot, his wife told him to wear a suit, but he refused. “If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.”

See if you can guess what he would think of the people in power in our present government.

Director Newman’s film has too many talking heads, though their comments are backed up by some valuable archival celluloid. We see Einstein as a man, laughing, talking, a social butterfly really, making us wonder when he had time to make contributions that led to the creation of the atom bomb, to inspire his students at Princeton, and to be a rebel with a cause. Though he was at ease with ordinary people, he was an elitist who preferred to exchange ideas with other intellectuals. Julia Newman shows the man in all of his guises, providing an entertaining enough vehicle for our consumption.

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

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
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+

LES SAUVAGES – movie review

LES SAUVAGES (Savages)
Topic.com
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writer: Sabri Louatah (novels & screenplay); Rebecca Zlotowski, Benjamin Charbit, David Elkim
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Amira Casar, Marina Foïs, Dali Benssalah, Sofiane Zermani, Souheila Yacoub, Shaïn Boumedine, Kadri Islands, Carima Amarouche, Lyna Khoudri, Farida Rahouadj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opened: September 19, 2019 on Canal. Available on Topic September 17, 2020′

Poster

 

If you’re an American watching the French TV episodes of “Les Sauvages,” you’d swear that the project was inspired by the election of Barak Obama, who apparently came out of nowhere during his first term in the US Senate to become President—twice. Could America have become post-racial? Not when you find out that the non-Hispanic white vote each time was under 40%, which means that he could not have been chosen without a turnout from the so-called minority population. Even more surprising, when his term was up, a person who has always been a household name, Donald J. Trump, perhaps the least qualified major candidate ever, defeated one of the most qualified people. What happened? The money is on the idea of blowback: deeply offended that a Black man took the highest office in the land, the American (white) public turned toward a person who from the beginning sent out racial dog whistles.

In the TV episodes of “Les sauvages,” the blowback worked in a reverse way, as France, a nation in crisis with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen polling second in a national election, changed course. Remember that “Les Sauvages” is fiction, but Sabri Louiatah, from whose novel the TV episodes have adapted and programmed via the direction of Rebecca Zlotowski (whose “Grand Central” deals with the discovery of radioactive contamination), could become real. In politics, anything can happen.

“Les Sauvages” studies two families, the Chaouch people consisting of Idder Chaouch and his daughter Jasmine; and the Nerrouch family, led by Fouad Nerrouche who is Jasmine’s boyfriend, and Nazir, a militant Muslim, hated by his brother Faouad.

The kicker here is that Idder Chaouch (Roschdy Zem) has been elected by the French people to the presidency with a solid 53.1% majority. The other 46.9% are not happy, yet they have little idea what policies he will follow under than the usual boilerplate, unifying the people. He’s a Muslim originally from Algeria, the first chap from the Mahgreb to ascend to the highest office, and what makes his majority vote particularly difficult to understand is that not all the Algerian-French want him. His Muslim enemies consider him a sellout for playing the game in a colonialist country that fought a vicious war against the independence drive in French Algeria.

The central event that drives most of the series is the attempted assassination of the new president-elect just after the election, given him not even a chance to prove or embarrass himself in office. The shooter is known. He is the eighteen-year-old Krim Benaïm, a gifted musician who is trying out for the conservatory. His motivation is unclear as he is silent under police interrogation. The theory is that he did not operate alone but was manipulated by Nazir Nerrouche (Sofiane Zermani), a militant Algerian then in jail who hated by the pro-French population, especially by his brother Fouad Nerrouche (Dali Benssalah), who is engaged to the president-elect’s daughter and adviser, Jasmine (Souheila Yacoub).

In episode one, the series’ most ambitious, we get to know the characters, the interlocking relationships, and get a closeup view of a wedding, which involves a highly spirited group of Algerian-French, the women showing their excitement in the Arab way by ululating, called zaghrouta. We learn that Idder Chaouch’s wife Daria (Amira Casar) is a musician and orchestra conductor who down to the last minute is not certain she wants to be First Lady, even to the extent of crumpling the ballot and tossing it. We are introduced to Marion, in charge of the candidate’s personal safety, burdened with guilt at her inability to stop the attack.

As the fast-moving episodes move on, each lasting from 50 to 60 minutes, we get a look at the police examinations, the rivalry within the ethnic Algerian families, all to the end of guessing what might happen if such events were to occur in the near future. The editing is rapid, shifting scenes, some last just seconds. The episodes are, in part breathtaking, the acting authentic. Filmed in Paris and Saint Étienne, France.

In French with English subtitles.

Episodes can be streamed at one-year-old Topic, a service of First Look Media, via Topic.com and Topic’s channels on Amazon Prime Video channels, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

50-60 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

STARS AND STRIFE – movie review

STARS AND STRIFE
Starz
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Smick
Screenwriter: David Smick
Cast: Alan Greenspan, Alice Rivlin, Amy Chua, Arthur Brooks, Chrissy Houlahan, David Ignatius, Derek Black, others
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/17/20
Opens: September 21, 2020

Stars and Strife Poster

Are we Americans destined to have the Stars and Strife forever, or are we simply at a crossroads today when so many formerly in the majority middle are increasingly separating into hostile forces reminiscent of Civil War times? David Smick’s documentary feature puts together a rousing bunch of leaders in both politics and economics to debate the current state of the U.S. while at the same time setting forth their views on our political divisions. Some spokespersons—and there are quite a few—believe the problems of democracy center on class differences while others believe that differences of race and religion are big factors. All believe that we can get together as we thought we were during the post-war period of prosperity in the 1950s and a largely global belief that America was where it’s at—though this would obviously dismiss the segregation that persisted well after the Civil War right into the present.

Stars and Strife Doc Trailer

Perhaps the best quote summing up the picture is the view that the opposite of hate is not love; it’s empathy. You’re not going to sing Kumbaya with people who do not see the world as you do, but listen listen listen. Implicit is the thought that what turned people in the rust belt, the rural areas, the blue-collar workers against the so-called elites in the coastal areas is that they have been looked upon by large segments of our people and politicians as hicks, racists, backward people living in flyover country. Democrats have lost many of these folks who believe that the party has been concentrating too much on ideas like gay rights, gay marriage, civil rights, all associated with identity politics, when they should have followed the wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, though a member of the aristocracy, won successive terms by showing regular people that he was on their side. (The FDR bit is not in the film, but a thought that came to me while watching a host of ideas sent out with the speed usually associated with blockbuster films.)

The most entertaining aspect of the picture is the use of animation and especially silent films starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd when the subject matter of each illuminated the issues in discussion. A lot of excellent editing by six film professionals kept the film moving ahead enjoyably. While twenty-four spokespersons introduced their pet ideas, President Trump is neither mentioned nor seen throughout, which is strange, since his actions are largely what informs the commentary.

Speakers who impressed me most include Hawk Newsome, President of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, who in one stirring evocation of his civil rights plank actually led to his being hugged by two members who appeared to be of white supremacists’ ideology. To further that end, Derek Black, the Godson of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, appears in various sections explaining his abandonment of white supremacy ideas, as though he had an epiphany in college. Some fellow students googled his name, deciding to have nothing to do with him when he was found out.

What causes hatred? One speaker noted that the resentment of Germans after World War I led to the most vicious authoritarianism and that similarly, there is resentment by the aforementioned blue-collar, working class people, who lost their promised careers when factories closed and work was sent overseas. Resentment leads to humiliation, which gives birth to anger and finally hate.

One way to curb extremism in politics involves putting aside the two-party system, which encourages extremism of both the left and the right to get votes, and to allow independents the chance to win local and national elections. Voters check off their preferences in order: 1,2,3,4. Say you have four candidates. If the first candidate does not get 50.1% of the vote, a clear majority, the person coming in fourth is eliminated and the remaining three may get a clear majority when second and third choices are utilized in the voting. (This is a fairly complex procedure that my group, New York Film Critics Online  uses, as in each category, we write up to three choices.)

Here’s a point not directly mentioned in the film but which I come away with. The speakers, like so many of us in the fifty states, would like to come together, some willing to compromise as was the case when Democrats and Republicans were still speaking to one another. But take abortion. Would the so-called pro-life people be willing to compromise and allow abortion on demand during the first trimester? And would the so-called pro-choice folks be willing to give up the possibility of banning second- and third-trimester procedures? And immigration. Would the forces on the right wing of the spectrum be willing to accept a substantial number of immigrants from, say, Central America? And would they be willing to give up all possibilities of buying AK-47 rifles and other assault weapons while the left ponders whether to allow guns in most civilian hands at all?

Because “Stars and Strife” is fast moving, the spokespeople not acting like the usual ponderous talking heads of so many docs, the film can surely be recommended to a general audience. While those of us who are “woke” are familiar with just about everything mentioned during the 97 minutes, many Americans follow politics the way I follow basketball, which is not at all. This is obviously a film more interested in compromise than the excellent “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” it may lack some of the rah-rah feelings that anti-Trump residents would come away with. But it’s fine as both a primer for those alienated from the fighting and an entertaining, informal piece for all.

The film is directed by David Smick, whose recent book The Great Equalizer: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone warns of the dangers of the present subpar global economic growth rates.

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

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

 

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP MOVIE REVIEW

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Partland
Screenwriter: Dan Partland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: September 1, 2020

Poster

I think that the best way for a political documentary to get its points across is with humor. In that way, a filmmaker can undercut potential opponents who would be so entertained that even they would appreciate what they are seeing. Think of Michael Moore’s exposing of political foibles in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” in “Bowling for Columbine,” and especially in “Sicko” where Moore attacks the sorry state of American medicine, how it provides great benefits only for those who can afford expensive insurance or have terrific jobs like members of Congress and the Supreme Court. But “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump” is one major exception to the humor rule. Dan Partland’s doc is so hard-hitting, so exquisitely edited, with so many people who are tops in their fields making major points against Trump, that this would probably be the year’s best non-fiction offering.

Poster #unfit: The Psychology of Donald J. Trump  n. 0

Not that it tells us anything new! That’s not what is so important. If you are politically woke, if you follow the news channels, especially the most truthful ones (i.e. those that Trump brushes aside as deliverers of fake news), you will not be surprised by the revelations here. The great benefit is that Partland hits us in the guts, drums in the danger that our republic is facing as we head down the road to fascism, and how fascistic leaders are taking power in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, Hungary and Turkey. (Duterte in the Philippines has no problem advocating the execution of the country’s three million drug pushers and addicts.)

Image result for UNFIT THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP POSTERS

But wait! There is some humor here after all. What you may remember most is a comment by Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted all of eleven days as Trump’s flack because his followers in the White House could not forget that he voted for Hillary and that he antagonized them, a hedge fund winner who could not adapt to the requirements of the political world. “Trump is not a racist,” he announces, to which the audience for the doc wonders whether he is sneaking in support for the President. “He treats everybody like shit.” Good one. Think about that. Is it true? We hear that he provides a toxic work environment, that those he praises one day he trashes the next. He thinks the world of Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, John F. Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Steve Bannon (good riddance), John Bolton, H.R. McMaster and scores of others. He changes his mind not only about his staff, whose members are fired regularly, but about policy. He announces an attack on Iran but cancels ten minutes before the bombs start falling.

Definitive analysis of Trump by top US mental health experts. Science. Truth. Duty to Warn. We ALL have an interest in this discussion. THIS KICKSTARTER HAS ENDED - CLICK BELOW, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, SUPPORT THE FILM, CLAIM A REWARD.

The most damaging accusations, at least in this film, are from psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, who are obligated to remain silent about people’s personalities unless they have seen them and put them on the couch. But there is an exception: shrinks are allowed to go public with other confidential information when they believe a patient is a danger to others, such as when a patient on the couch announces that he is going to go home and kill his girlfriend. (In that case, the psychologist remained silent: the patient went home and killed his girlfriend.)

Trump is like that person, except that as one interviewer notes, his narcissism, his paranoia, his sadism and his anti-social personality are a threat to all of us, not only domestically but globally. When members of the cast talk about the President’s power to unleash a thermonuclear war, we should worry. In fact the accusations against the man in the White House are so incisive that the documentary’s viewers may wonder why he has not unleashed the dogs of war, particularly when he said (he was not joking) that what is the purpose of nuclear weapon if we do not use them?

If you watch the news, think about his speeches. He unloads statements not once or twice, but three times or more. He may use the term “fake news” three times in one speech. By the third time, the crowd believes him. He follows the tactics of other authoritarians around the world like Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsanaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey, to rally the people. One person who knew Trump up close said that he read Hitler’s speeches. No, he is not Hitler, but he uses the same template to sway the population. There exists in this country a broad swath of people, those whom Hillary unfortunately labeled “deplorables,” who believe that they have been ignored by politicians. They went for Trump because he spoke their language, he convinced them that he hears them and that he vows to make the country great again. The wonder is, given his shrugging off of the dangers of the coronavirus and the fact that these people have not done any better economically during his tenure, they continue to support him wildly.

Some time is given over to animations, a particularly good cartoonish one shows an obese man with yellow hair marching quickly to his own drummer. Jane Goodall gets some photographic time studying chimps, noting that while at first they cooperate with one another under a head chimp, eventually the crew become so large that they break into two groups. One group attacks the other, beating the animals to death. Their own kind! Therein lies an incisive metaphor for our polarized society today.

There is one major point that Partland glides over. One man cannot do what Trump is accused of doing. He might have added that Hitler would not be able to kill six million Jews if he did not have enablers; that is, people in various countries as well as in Germany who helped him with that gruesome job. Trump could have been stopped in his tracks if he did not get the political support from a Supreme Court whose votes can be predicted with fair accuracy in advance of any case. Nor could he have had reactionary federal judges appointed if he did not control a Republican majority in the Senate, who, despite previous opinions they may have had about Trump’s inability to lead the nation, now praise him with obnoxious sycophancy. Mitch McConnell is another hypocrite who years ago denied even a hearing for Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court vacancy because he said that a President in his final year should have to wait until after the election. Now, the Senate majority leader notes that in the case of a Supreme Court vacancy during Trump’s last six months, “Oh, we’ll fill it.”

Dan Partland’s first documentary feature is astonishingly good.

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

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

MADE IN BANGLADESH – movie review

MADE IN BANGLADESH
Art Mattan Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rubaiyat Hossain
Screenwriter: Rubaiyat Hossain, Philippe Barriere
Cast: Rikita Nandini Shimu, Novera Rahman, Deepanwita Martin, Parvin Paru
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/13/20
Opens: August 28, 2020

Poster

According to Shimu Akhtar (Rikita Nandini Shimu), women “are screwed if we are married and screwed if we are not.” What we have here is a film about female empowerment and at the same time a plea to working women of Bangladesh, single or otherwise, to unionize their factories. Why do they deserve to be empowered as females? Because they’re tired of being pushed around by men. As for why unionization is important, take a look at your T-shirt from The Gap or Lands’ End or Macys. See if the label says “Made in Bangladesh.” Or El Salvador, Honduras, India, and Vietnam. What did you pay for a trio of these garments? Forty dollars? Did you know that such a sum could pay a woman who made those shirts, just three miserable shirts, for an entire month? Exploitation is rampant in struggling countries like dirt-poor Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), as factory owners can sell their clothing to buyers in the west for a price that the rich countries can well afford, and their use of downtrodden help can reap enormous profits—while at the same time screwing labor in the rich countries like the U.S. by smashing their garment workers’ unions like our ILGWU, denying them jobs altogether.

Made in Bangladesh (2019)

Rubaiyat Hossain, who directs and co-wrote “Made in Bangladesh,” is a female director now enlightening us in the theater audience with her third feature. She follows up her “Meherjaan,” an antiwar film about the dangers of extreme nationalism, and “Under Construction,” which like her current feature is about a Bangladeshi woman finding her way. With Shimu as principal focus, she highlights the pitfalls of marriage, a woman who dodges pressure to hitch up with a man twenty years older but is oppressed by her husband Reza (Shatabdi Wadud), who despite having no job and being supported by his wife demands her obedience to his dictates. What’s more she, her husband, and presumably most of the people living and working in the capital of Dhaka, are ground down in a poor country that Trump would call the opposite of his favorite foreign place, Norway.

After a fire in a deathtrap of a clothing factory causes the death of one worker, Shimu is asked by Nasima Apa (Shahana Goswami) to visit her office for an interview where she encourages Shimu to lead a struggle to unionize. She would need signatures of thirty percent of the workers to register the factory as a union plant, and while she succeeds, she is also taunted by the very people who signed who are now worried that they will be fired. Never mind that even if she wins the battle, if she overcomes the bureaucrat in the Ministry of Labor who tries to sabotage the attempt, she will get her sisters a monthly raise to a mere 4250 takas ($50 U.S. dollars), because geography is destiny.

Salbine Lancelin behind the lenses captures the hellhole of Dhaka, which can make us in America wonder why we call that Asian country “developing.” It has been developing since its creation March 26, 1971 in a split with Pakistan (also “developing”). We see the interiors, namely the factory and the sad excuse for a home for which Shimu is behind in payments. The bad guys are the men—all the bosses and oversees are male, and all of the workers are female, usually young.

This is a drama that may prompt us not only to admire the tenacity of a twenty-three-year old Bangladeshi Norma Rae, but to think about how we should spend our money. We could refuse to buy clothing made in countries that pay workers $40 a month, more or less, but then who would hire women like Shimu who could wind up living on the street? The plot is not complex and the good gals and bad guys are not nuanced, but literary value notwithstanding, “Made in Bangladesh” is an interesting movie to watch with the added benefit of evoking political discussions.

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

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

 

HAMILTON – movie review

HAMILTON
Disney+
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thomas Kail
Book Music, Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s biography by Ron Chernow
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onadowan, Anthony Ramos, Phillips Soo, Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Hope Easterbrook, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Elizabeth Judd, Jon Rua, Austin Smith, Seth Stewart, Ephraim Sykes
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/2/20
Opens: July 3, 2020

hamilton posters

As one opponent of Alexander Hamilton states in the musical “Hamilton,” “He’s a threat as long as he holds a pen.” Would this insight be a dated one, or would it apply to the resident of the Oval Office today? History repeats itself. Every person in power has enemies, every ideology has its suggested modifications. After the American Revolution, opposition did not end but continues to this day. Everybody is unique and therefore everyone has a point of view.

Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, had opposition early on in both the political and the personal all creatively evoked in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical, which played to full houses in the Richard Rodgers Theater beginning August 6, 2015. Seats are filled by people who paid upward of $1,000 (to brokers) for tickets. Now, after almost five years since its opening, it hits the big screen, or rather, it opened on July 3, 2020 streaming only, for a while depriving the lush, glorious musical of venues where it would best be enjoyed.

There is an advantage to the film version, which is that we get to see the original cast with particular focus on an absolute genius, Lin-Manual Miranda, who composed the book, the music and the lyrics and plays the title character. He has a powerful singing voice, a presence that illuminates the room whether you’re watching from your computer or, perhaps later, in the multiplex. Though many movies deal with World War II, only a handful, like this one, are inspired by the American Revolution and the people in the colonies.

In our current year, the persecution of Black people seems finally to hit home even with people who think Obama’s election meant that racism was over. By contrast, what a representation of Blacks and Hispanics in “Hamilton,” a majority of the performers! The play was filmed in situ at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016 with cameras that are not simply anchored to the floor but moving with the performers under Declan Quinn lenses, all under the direction of Thomas Kail in his big-screen freshman narrative movie. Dolly shots, closeups, and overhead filming adds to the wide scenes of bodies in motion, capturing the stillness of the intimate songs and the bouncing rhythms of jazz, rap and rhythm and blues.

Paul Tazewell’s costumes portray the Redcoats in their uniformed glory, while the colonists planning revolution don their colorful, but by contrast muted, colors. David Lorins’ scenic design emphasizing wooden scaffolds avoids the usual Broadway custom of being wheeled out and replaced depending on the action. Andy Blankenbuehler’s super-charged choreography evokes dancing that is anything but the sort popularized by the 18th century Puritans. Though some songs display moments of intimacy such as “Wait for it” sung by Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), the general tone is bouncy and loud. The opening, Alexander Hamilton,” brings down the house in short order. Jasmine Cephas Jones captivates as both Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds, though every scene involving King George (Jonathan Groff), who shows up on stage usually alone to warn the colonists not to come back crawling to him, is the musical’s comic highlight. Think of the insight Groff belts out “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” Know any current government officials who think that way, also without irony.

Theater fans who mourn that so many Broadway shows are retreads of the oldies; “South Pacific,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Music Man,” will cheer that “Hamilton” is thoroughly original. There is nothing quite like it in Broadway’s history, with top audience seats prohibitively expensive. Now you can stream it with a Disney + accouint while you wait for the virus to calm down allowing it to make history at the multiplex.

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

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

DISCLOSURE – movie review

DISCLOSURE
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Bentham
Screenwriter: Michael Bentham
Cast: Geraldine Hakewill, Mark Leonard Winter, Matilda Ridgway, Tom Wren, Greg Stone, Lucy McMurray
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/3/20
Opens: June 30, 2020

Disclosure Poster

To paraphrase Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Lord, what children these adults be!” In a narrative involving four middle-aged adults in Australia (filmed by Mark Carey in Victoria), a conversation begins in a civil way but breaks down into a melodramatic conclusion. The movie “Disclosure,” is written and directed by Michael Bentham in his freshman full-length narrative film. Bentham, who was born in Switzerland, lived much his life in the UK and now resides in Melbourne, is an accomplished viola player and a writer-director who does a smashing job in building tension in this entry. By implication he indicts not only the foursome in “Disclosure” but shows us without mentioning any American government officials that politicians as high up as president can sometimes act like kids. Correct that: can always act like kids. That may go over at a wedding, but politics should demand more mature representatives than we in the U.S. must suffer with now.

“Disclosure” can be compared most closely to Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” which finds two couples meeting cordially to discuss what to do about their children who had been engaged in a fight, ending up shouting and threatening in an increasingly childish manner. Like sons, like adults. Though the performers in “Disclosure” may be little known here in the States, certainly not people with the reputations of Polanski’s Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster, they do a fine job arguing back and forth about their children’s behavior, attempting to compromise, and showing what could happen when the chance to settle a six-week’s-old event ends in physical violence.

Emily Bowman (Matilda Ridgway) is a documentary filmmaker living with her journalist husband Danny Bowman (Mark Leonard Winter). They are concerned that their four-year-old daughter Natasha has advised them that Ethan, a nine-year-old, did some bad things to her, presumably of a sexual nature. Ethan is the son of Bek Chalmers (Geraldine Hakewill) and her politician husband Joel Chalmers (Tom Wren), a member of Parliament being considered for a high position. It helps to know that though the four individuals are neighbors and friends, both with enough money to own spacious homes with kidney-shaped pools in their backyards, there is a difference in social class not related to money. The politician is straight-as-an-arrow as you might expect a person to be when he needs the votes of a community, while Emily and Danny are hip. In fact the movie begins with an extended period showing the latter two photographing themselves while having sex, blurting out language that would make a sailor blush.

The four exchange pleasantries at first, their conversations becoming steadily more assertive and aggressive. Emily (but not so much her husband) wants to report the alleged behavior of the two children to child protection, which could ruin Joel’s chances to get ahead in his field. (Australian politics is different from that in America. Here a man holding the highest office in the land can grab women in any parts of their bodies and tell strings of obvious lies, thereby actually increasing his popularity with some voters.)

Did Natasha make the story up? Can’t be, insists Emily. Her daughter does not lie. What about Ethan? He doesn’t lie either, say his folks. Somebody’s lying and we cannot be sure which one, but the conflict becomes red hot when events turn up that, allow each couple to blackmail the other.

Though some of the threats and counterthreats are repetitious, the film at 85 minutes does not overstate its time. It features compact editing, colorful cinematography, and a quartet of citizens downunder who recall the antics of George and Martha’s baiting Nick and Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” A good, entertaining and credible show.

Can’t Australians just get along like us here in the States?

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

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

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY – movie review

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justin Pemberton
Screenwriter: Adapted by Matthew Metcalfe, Justin Pemberton, Thomas Piketty, based on Thomas Piketty’s book
Cast: Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Gillian Tett, Kate Williams, Gabriel Zucman, Ian Bremmer, Rana Foroohar, Francis Fukuyama
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/5/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

People with any rational perspective in our country are fighting mad. Never mind that Fox News tells us that we have the lowest rate of unemployment in decades, or that what’s good for Wall Street (the booming stock market) is good for Main Street. The trouble is that instead of focusing on the real problem, which is the rising rate of economic inequality, too many people are instead distracting themselves by blaming immigrants, by blaming Muslims, by dispelling their anger is ways that are not only dangerous but ineffective. This brings us to Justin Pemberton’s bold, incisive, riveting documentary, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” based on the dense book by Parisian Thomas Piketty, who gets a considerable platform in this striking new documentary.

Pemberton, whose previous docs run the gamut including “Chasing Great” about a black rugby player, “The Golden Hour” about New Zealand Olympians, and “Is She or Isn’t She” about a hairy woman with a penis, now takes on what is arguably the major economic hazard of our time, which is the inequality of wealth. Piketty, who holds gigs at the London School of Economics among other prestigious institutions, believes that the rate of capital return in the developed countries is greater than rate of economic growth, and that is what is causing inequality. President Reagan offered the view that tax decreases will pay for themselves and afford everyone a slice of a bigger pie. Instead Piketty advocates a global tax on wealth, which would bring about the necessary redistribution of income. After all, it’s not always hard work that thickens your wallet; in fact it’s possession of capital largely brought about through inheritance.

In his book, Piketty goes further than what we see in this movie, heads and tails above what Bernie Sanders bases his campaign on. He wants a schedule of taxation on income and wealth that reaches ninety percent and the elimination of nation-states in favor of a vast transnational democracy securing a universal right to education and the abolition of borders. Among other reforms, this would prevent capital from moving to havens to avoid taxation like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and even the tiny national state of Vanuatu.

Economics writing can be intimidating, but Pemberton transcends the difficulty of the printed word by supplying a staggering series of archival films, forming the historical background of income inequality. The idea that one percent of the population makes as much money annually as the bottom three hundred eighty billion folks has roots beginning at least as far back as the Eighteenth Century. If you’re a buff of movies like “Downton Abbey,” “The Favourite,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Reign,” “The Medici” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” and you marvel at the costumes and the breathtaking splendor of the land, the minuets, the sumptuous feasts, you are too distracted to get your blood boiling with the knowledge that the aristocracy is only one percent of the Europeans on display while the masses outside are suffering.

You will, however, be impressed with the scenes in this movie about royalty, including a splendid few moments of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Les Miserables,” but your excitement plummets when you watch the black-and-white shots of poverty in times past and, much more recently as the way capital has led us to the near depression of 2008 when banks gave out mortgages to people who shouldn’t have received them, and through the shuffling of paper sold those mortgages to other financial institutions through a mind-boggling template of Wall Street intrigue. Other historic celluloid on display looks into sections of “The Grapes of Wrath,” featuring a farmer telling a dude with a convertible that “Nobody is going to take away my land.”

I love what Amazon does for me, but given Piketty’s focus on redistribution, Jeff Bezos would have to fork over $409,000,000,000 (that’s four hundred nine billion dollars) in year one of the plan. If big corporations continue to take the lion’s share of money, they will be able to continue exerting monumental power. What better example than that of Trump’s getting his Republican congress to lower the corporate tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty-two percent, one of the major disasters that our great-great grandchildren will pay for as the deficit continues past the stratosphere.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” then, serves as one of the best documentaries in recent years. There is scarcely a dull moment given the fast editing provided by Sandie Bompar and the deft selection of historic clips that Pemberton uses to nail down his points. Economics is oft considered a dismal science, perhaps much of it is. With the excitement generated by this doc, punctuating the talking heads with dramatic cinematics, you might expect thousands of students to select Economics as their major and adults long past college to inspire vivid discussions around the table about where America is headed. What’s in your wallet?

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

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

SLAY THE DRAGON – movie review

SLAY THE DRAGON
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barak Goodman, Chris Durrance
Screenwriter: Barak Goodman, Chris Durrance
Cast: Ari Berman, David Daley, Margaret Dickson, Anita Earls, Katie Fahey, Ruth Greenwood, Chris Jankowski, Justin Levitt, Vann Newkirk
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/12/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

Poster

 

The United States is not only a democratic country; it is a Democrat nation. This means that theoretically if every eligible adult voted, the Democrats would regularly take a majority of seats in Congress and in state legislatures. The Democratic Party has grown because of immigration and through the ability of formerly minority groups to increase their numbers. Minorities like Hispanics and African-Americans tend to vote Demoratic. Then how did it happen that Republicans captured majorities in so many state legislative houses and Congressional elections? Some say it’s because the poor are less likely to vote than the middle class and the rich. Others say it’s because some states are now requiring photo id’s at the voting booths, which the poor are somehow less likely to acquire. According to Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance who direct “Slay the Dragon”—a logo on the T-shirt of a successful young activist—the reason is the corrupt practice of gerrymandering.

Every ten years a census is carried out. Each state legislature is allowed to redistrict the territory since some districts lose so much population that their representatives are out of their jobs while others gain population and may be able to elect more legislative reps and members of Congress. However, wanting to hold on to their jobs and their power, states’ partisan commissions have gerrymandered, which means they have carved up districts not like boxes and rectangles but in such a way that their opponents are tossed away into a just a few districts where they can elect whom they wish, giving most other areas majorities that they would not have had if the opponents remained where they were. The new district had weird shapes: some look like salamanders, others like bats. Many other strange designs make clear that corrupt political considerations have gone through the map to keep more of their own party in power. (For more detail on the process of gerrymandering, check out the Wikipedia article.) For purposes of this left-leaning documentary, we are led to believe that the Republicans do this more than the Democrats, because, as stated above this is a Democratic (capital D) country which would have captured more seats if the districts were drawn fairly.

Why do Goodman and Durrance blame the Republicans? Because only recently they have embarked on a major plan to overturn the natural Democratic majorities in this country by their corrupt redistricting plans. Is gerrymandering just an abstract idea that should not worry us? No. Look at what happened to Flint, after the GOP had redrawn the map of the Michigan to allow Republican districts to predominate. The party hired finance managers allegedly to manage Michigan’s financial woes. These people turned the Flint River into the city’s water supply. Thus the brown water coming from the faucets such that, as one person states, “Even my dog would not drink that.”

Since state legislatures do the gerrymandering, Republicans hit on the super-rich like the Koch Brothers to finance campaigns in the individual states, outspending the Democrats and carrying districts that they ordinarily would not have had a chance to do. The principal character in the doc, a young woman, Katie Fahey who peppers her lively sentences with “like” and “awesome,” shows how she carried out a massive job in getting the required 350,000 signatures of Michigan citizens to get a proposition on the ballot. Her group, called Voters Not Politicians, is able to win the cause: that henceforth independent groups would do the redistricting rather than the politicians. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, similar grass roots movements got a case up to Supreme Court, also determined to end political gerrymandering. Ultimately, than to Kavanaugh’s rising to the Supreme Court when Anthony Kennedy resigned, the Wisconsin activists did not succeed

It’s now easy to see that just as the Electoral College, designed by rich white men, thwarted the elections of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, most state legislatures are dominated by Republicans despite the fact that in a recent election, tabulating all the votes of all the states, Democrats took 60% of the vote. We’re not a banana republic quite yet, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the U.S. to become an ideal democracy.

The doc is forceful, correctly partisan, and the smell of corruption should enrage right-thinking people.

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

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

THE UNORTHODOX – movie review

THE UNORTHODOX
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eliran Malka
Screenwriter: Eliran Malka
Cast: Shuli Rand, Yaacov Cohen, Yoav Levi, Golan Azulai, Shifi Aloni, Or Lumbrozo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/25/19
Opens: June 4, 2019 at JCC in Manhattan

A scene from the movie ‘The Unorthodox’

 

The old saying is that you put two Jews in a room discussing anything under the sun and they will not only disagree but will come up with three diverse positions. This is true to some extent among diaspora Jews in the U.S., people of the book who love endless discussions to such an extent that many Gentiles do not understand the verbal mayhem. And it is surely true of Jews living in Israel, who may have seemed unified when the nation was founded in 1948 with its iconic, socialist members of kibbutzim (collective farms), but has since fractured into more political parties than you can count on your fingers, with maybe your toes thrown in. “The Unorthodox” may seem at first look like a deadly serious film about ethnic discrimination but is filled with comic outbursts and undertones and includes many cartoonish figures—not excluding rabbis.

Still, it’s regrettable that Israelis fell into the kind of discrimination that pit those of European background, some of whom migrated to the land while others (Sabras) were born there, against those known as Mizrahis and Sephardim—generally of darker skin including those thrown out of their birth lands including Iran, Dagestan, Syria, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The differences are not only in skin color, though you might scarcely tell by looking who is of European stock and who is Middle Eastern, but in culture, involving music, clothing, food and the like.

Because of this discrimination, one fellow, Yaakov Cohen (Shuli Rand), partly comic and otherwise passionate, becomes radicalized when his daughter is suspended from high school twice within two weeks and then told by the headmistress that she “does not fit in.” Turns out that she is Sephardic attending a school filled with Ashkenazi Jews, and is dropped from the register though she is neither a discipline problem nor a bad student. Forced to accept the decision, Yaakov, heretofore apolitical, realizes that the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities in Jerusalem can show power only by forming a party, the Sephardi Torah Guardians, or Shas (an actual party of Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern extraction actually founded in 1984). Nobody but he thinks the organization will get anywhere, but in running for the City Council, Yaakov must get the endorsement of at least one rabbi, preferably the head rabbi of the city.

Given the overlong presidential campaigns here in the U.S., each election considered by the media “the most important ever,” you may not be in the mood for another culture’s campaigning, but you will be drawn into writer-director Eliran Malka’s debut feature movie. Eliran Malka presents “The Unorthodox” soon after helming his groundbreaking TV show Shababnikim, an irreverent look at the shenanigans of four ultra-Orthodox fellows studying at a Jerusalem yeshiva. Malka, intent on showing ultra-Orthodox as people misrepresented by the media as a closed society, highlights each of the major personalities with his or her own quirks, whether they be from the movie’s idealistic anchor played by Shuli Rand, the local rabbi actually named Yaacov Cohen, who was born in Morocco, or the henchmen who try to absorb the Shas founders into their own party thereby hoping to dissolve the divisions. But like political parties everywhere, Shas began with admirable ideals when Shuli Rand’s character ran for the Jerusalem City Council, then rubbed up against the daily corruptions of the game, wherein at least five Shas members of the Knesset were busted for fraud, forgery, and conspiracy to commit crimes.

Notwithstanding the writer-director’s championing of the party through his film, today Shas has moved to the far right, against any cutback in activities settling the West Bank. At least the party as we see its members in action in “The Unorthodox” summons us to cheer their ideals, while knowing that somehow Yaacov, its founding member, will become not only corrupted but thrown under the bus by his fellow party members.

“The Unorthodox” was selected to screen at the Israel Film Festival.

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

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

VICE – movie reveiw

VICE

Annapurna Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Adam McKay
Screenwriter:  Adam McKay
Cast:  Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Lily Rabe, Alison Pill, Shea Whigham, Eddie Marsan, Tyler Perry, Justin Kirk
Screened at: DGA, NYC, 11/23/18
Opens: December 25, 2018
Vice - Poster Gallery
Adam McKay is nothing if not a patriotic critic of United States policy.  With his adaptation of “The Big Short,” he took on the folks who gave us the worst recession since the Great Depression.  With “Revolt of the Yes Men” he and his fellow directors struck at corporate crimes for Big Business’ efforts to fight climate change.  “Anchorman 2” showed the man’s ability to make a light movie just for fun, though he is probably critical of any newscaster who came after Walter Cronkite.  Now he does it again with a satire that has elements of Michael Moore’s hard-hitting humor but tempered in his depiction of former Vice President Dick Cheney to such an extent that you might think at times that he is simply neutral about the man’s “accomplishments.”  “Vice” is a most delightful description of Cheney and his times beginning in 1963 and ending with the closing of the Bush administration where he watches the Obama inauguration from a wheelchair, pretending for the photographers that he is not completely disgusted with the afternoon’s activities.

As played by Christian Bale, who gained forty pounds for the role (not a wise choice considering that this could put him in league with the Veep who had five heart attacks), Cheney influences President George W. Bush to such an extent that journalists and pundits believe that he is not just the man behind the throne but the guy who is actually serving as President of the United States.  Cheney is a master manipulator, using his street smarts to get Bush to give him more power than any preceding Vice President ever enjoyed.  In fact he had been so aggressive in his determination to influence American foreign policy that he may have made the big decision to move troops from Afghanistan into Iraq, the kind of mistake to which the U.S. had become accustomed–not such our policy toward Vietnam but dating back to colonial days when patriotic countrymen strung up those dreadful witches.

Though his approval rating when he left office was 13%, you’ve got to wonder where the people who became the rank and file of the Tea Party were. Surely more of us, particularly in the red states of course, are willing to defend anything the Republican Party does, even tolerate a serial liar and womanizer simply because the person occupying the Oval Office is doing what they want him to do.  Cheney himself notes that like Nixon, he believes that anything the President does is ipso factor legal.

McKay, who wrote the script as well as directs, reaches back to 1963 when the Nebraska-born, Wyoming-living politician attended Yale and later the University of Wyoming getting a graduate degree in Political Science.  McKay brings us to the Nixon and Ford administrations where he pushes his way into getting appointed as White House Chief of Staff, then in 1978 becomes the sole Wyoming representative in the House where he is reelected five times, then Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush presidency.  He has time even to become the CEO of Halliburton which, by coincidence no doubt, won many government no-bids contracts to supply war needs in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It’s little wonder that when he resigned from Halliburton—whose stock rose 500% at one point—he was given a separation sum of $22 million.

Much is made of the domestic life of the man.  He is given hell by his wife Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) during the early years of their marriage for being a drunk and getting into bar fights, but soon enough he shapes up to watch his star rise and see the pride that Lynne takes in him.  His wife, surprisingly, does not want him to accept an appointment from Bush to be his running mate since the job is considered ceremonial—or in more colorful terms as John Nance Garner once put it, “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”  Little did Garner realize that a manipulator of the sort that Cheney was could actually set policy, which would be officially announced as the thoughts of the President.  The only character who shines as much as both Bale and Adams is Steve Carell, a busy man indeed, who can emcee an evening of Saturday Night Live and now just as effectively portray Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

About the Michael Moore comparison: the most comical scene occurs when Bush (Sam Rockwell, who is truly funny to nobody’s surprise) tries to coax Cheney into becoming his running mate.  Cheney resists, telling POTUS that instead he could recommend a slate of people he considers worthy.  Little does Bush realize that Cheney is playing him, acting coy in order to make demands that Bush give him more policy-making power than any Vice President had before him.  Cheney is  mum on the issue of gay marriage, which a conservative Republican would surely oppose.  Could it be because one of his two daughters, Mary, is an open lesbian now living in Virginia with her wife Heather Poe?  And could that explain why Cheney broke rank with most of his fellow conservatives by supporting gay marriage?  If only the man were that decent and not the one who supported waterboarding and other methods of enhanced interrogation!  Never mind that Mary’s sister, during her own campaign for Wyoming’s rep in the House, insists that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Ah, politics.

Even serious matters like Cheney’s heart attacks are choreographed with wit.  When the Vice President falls to the floor and an ambulance is called, that’s the usual way.  In two other cases he stands with colleagues and announces casually and almost ironically that they should call the hospital.  When Cheney gets the heart of a man who dies in an auto accident, instead of praising the hero’s family he says that he is proud to have “my new heart.”  If Cheney is truly the man with the most influence on foreign policy during the Bush administration, he deserves censure for the loss of life of our fighting team and for 600,000 mostly civilian deaths in Iraq.

This is not the first satiric movie about Cheney but arguably the most incisive and best acted.  Oliver Stone directed a biographical drama using Richard Dreyfus to impersonate Cheney; in “Who is America” Sacha Baron Cohen pranked Cheney into signing a makeshift water board kit.  Ultimately you might agree that Cheney is so out of touch with common decency that you don’t need to pen a satiric book or a broadside on the screen.  He is his own caricature.

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

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

THE WALDHEIM WALTZ – movie review

THE WALDHEIM WALTZ

Menemsha Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ruth Beckermann
Screenwriter: Ruth Beckermann
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/24/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
Waldheims Walzer (2018)
Pete Seeger once sang a Tom Paxton song, a section going like this:

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine,
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine.
I learned our country must be strong, it’s always right and never wrong,
Our leaders are the finest men, and we elect them again and again,
And that’s what I learned in school today, that’s what I learned in school.

Don’t you think it’s true that in America all our leaders are the finest men?  Grade school optimism of this nature would not fare well in other countries, as their presidents and prime ministers are not as saintly as ours.  Take the bottom-feeder that came out of Austria.  No, not that one.  Think of Kurt Waldheim, Wouldn’t it have been great if that war criminal, that Viennese vulture, spent his life baking sachertortes instead of taking part in Nazi paramilitary activities?  Instead the one-time president of Austria repeatedly states throughout this documentary that he was just a soldier drafted by Germany to serve on the Russian front.  What he conceals while at the same time virtually shooting himself in the foot by his denials, that he knew nothing about the shooting of Serb civilians one hundred meters from his office in Yugoslavia nor did he have any knowledge of the deportation of 12,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece during the years of World War II particularly 1942-43.

Maybe he lied, maybe he didn’t. But there is enough doubt sowed here to have caused the Austrian voters to demur about casting ballots for him when he ran for president in 1986.  He won on the second ballot with 53.8% of the vote.

Filmmaker Ruth Beckermann, who has considerable experience with documentaries, is adept at dramas as well.  Before “The Waldheim Waltz” she traveled across Europe and the Mediterranean to unfold “The Dreamed Ones,” focused on chance encounters with the likes of Nigerian asylum seekers in Sicily, an Arab musician in Galilee, nationalists drunk on beer in Vienna, and veiled young women trying to cross a busy road in Alexandria.  She provides voiceover narration throughout “The Waldheim Waltz,” which concentrates on the 1986 presidential election, showing archival film from the forties and from Waldheim’s tenure as UN Secretary General.  One must wonder at the kind of world that existed in 1972 to allow this fellow, later banned from travel in the U.S. for lying about his service in the S.A., or Sturmabterlung, the Nazi paramilitary force.

The most dramatic incident occurs when, during a street confrontation between pro-Waldheim people on the street and those opposed, a member of the former group yells to Beckermann and to all around gathered to watch the action, “You belong in the ground, you Jewish swine.” Then to another in the crowd, “Are you a Jewboy?  A Jewboy?”  This antisemitism is nothing new for Austrians.  To this day, they consider themselves citizens who suffered just like the Jews under the Nazis since the Anschluss, or annexation of their country to Germany.  The reality is that crowds turned out to cheer wildly for Hitler and generally to show that the majority, perhaps, were quite comfortable attaching themselves to another German-speaking country.

We can’t fail to add that Waldheim’s “memory loss” or “amnesia” about his wartime activities brings to mind similar situations that have arisen here in the U.S. as politicians, grilled by journalists and congressional committees to ‘fess up about shady dealings in their past, have “no recollection.”  This is not to say that any office holder or candidate for high-level jobs is on the same base level as was a member of a Nazi paramilitary organization.  This is just the way that we, watching local politics about the Kavanaugh hearings in particular, can have an AHA! moment.  This is what dirty politics is all about.  It’s no wonder that so many of our citizens have given up on participating even once every two years in the simple act of casting ballots, given that neither Tweedledum nor Tweedledee will be able to solve or even to bother understanding the real problems that all but the richest one percent face.

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

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

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 – movie review

FAHRENHEIT 11/9

Briarcliff Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Michael Moore
Screenwriter:  Michael Moore
Cast:  Donald Trump, Michael Moore
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 9/20/18
Opens: September 21, 2018
Fahrenheit 11/9 Movie Poster
In promoting an intellectually deep, emotionally charged drama whether in a book, a movie or a stage play, there’s no better slogan that a publicist can adopt than “You’ll laugh!  You’ll cry!” Yet from easily the best documentary film released so far this year, the most that you can say is that you’ll cry.  There is considerable humor along with the melancholy on display from our country’s most entertaining documentarian, Michael Moore.  But from the first riveting scene to the final compelling words, you can’t be blamed for wanting to cry your eyes out.  And that’s the strong recommendation one can make for this film.

When Andrew Cuomo campaigned for re-election as New York’s governor, one who would “stand up to Trump,” he stated that the slogan “Make America Great” is a falsehood; that America was always great.  Not so, Moore would reply, America was never great.  And that’s where the tears can flow, because from the penning of the U.S. Constitution by rich white male slave owners, giving us the absurdly undemocratic electoral college, our country has had to struggle to make inroads resonant for all the people, not just the billionaires and not just for rural folks who make the big mistake of thinking that Trump will solve their money problems and not go rogue by blaming race and immigration.

“Fahrenheit 11/9,” a title that cleverly switches the date of Moore’s previously movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” to refer to the announcement of Trump’s 2016 election victory, is a screed against the corruption endemic in our national politics.  The reference is also to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” in which a dictatorship takes over the lives of the citizenry. Moore takes aim at Democrats and Republicans alike, criticizing so-called Democrat Bill Clinton for turning prisons over to private hands, cutting welfare from the checks of millions of needy Americans, and de-regulating banks to such an extent that we wound up with the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression.  Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer could hardly be called reformers.  President Obama is chastised for deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants and pretending that the water crisis in Flint Michigan has been simply blown up to the status of national scandal.  (In Flint, Michigan, he asks for a glass of water as though to show his disappointed audience that the water is pure.  He takes just a sip.)

Still, most of Moore’s animosity goes to the Republicans, especially people like Rick Snyder, a reactionary governor of Michigan, who made nice with corporate power by building a pipeline that would bypass the pure water of Lake Huron to a separate, corroding line,that poisoned the output to the most poor, mostly African-American community.

Trump is the obvious principal target of Moore’s scathing criticism, so demonic that the doc plays archival film of Hitler with Trump’s voice replacing that of the last century’s most evil monster.  You would not be entirely wrong if you thought that this was overkill, that the “It can’t happen here” now longer applies, but there is an eerie sense that the rallies that Trump conducts, his preferred means of communication to his base coupled with his avoidance of press conferences, are a prelude to total dissembling of even what has passed for democracy in our union.

Perhaps his most controversial view is that the reason so many registered voters stayed home on that fateful day in November of 2016 is not apathy or laziness, but a giving up, a surrender to the idea that standard politics is so demented, so unrepresentative, that there’s nothing anybody can do.  In that regard, Bernie Sanders comes across as Moore’s hero, a fellow who, unlike Trump and unlike Hillary Clinton, tells it like it really is but gets shafted by the Democratic National Committee intent on giving Hillary the nomination.

Yet there is hope. Look at what’s going down in some of the red states.  In West Virginia, teachers are so fed up with their miserable wages, with their need to take two and even three jobs to make ends meet, that they succeeded in striking for five days and winning the reasonable raise for which they asked.

As though to nail home points that might have seemed peripheral to the anti-Trump camp, he virtually calls the president a perv, showing a succession of pictures with Trump and his daughter Ivanka at various states in her growing up giving each other affection that might look as though a rich boss is cavorting with his young secretary.  It did not help the president to say that if Ivanka were not his daughter, he would be dating her.

In Stanley Kramer’s movie “On the Beach,” a nuclear bomb has exploded in the North, the radiation heading toward Australia which is still habitable.  The final scene shows a Salvation Army street poster with the hopeful message, “There is still time…Brother.”  Is there?  Are we headed—like climate change—to the point of no return, or can we avoid the mistakes made by Germany’s progressive Weimar Republic when 32% of the electorate voted for the Nazi Party?  If the American voters turn out in great numbers, the Democratic Party victories would be shoo-ins, since after all, we are a left-leaning nation with a majority favoring Medicare for All, proper regulations of guns, free public colleges, and reproductive rights.  Or so Moore says.

There is much to ponder in a film that makes its 126 minutes pass like an entertaining look at an America currently in a dystopian free-fall.  Michael Moore’s hard-hitting, hard left project has not a single dull or irrelevant moment and, like Bob Woodward’s latest book “Fear” is a clearly-reasoned, cleverly edited broadside punctuated by the year’s most awesome musical score.

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

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

REVERSING ROE – movie review

REVERSING ROE

Netflix
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Directors:  Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
Screenwriters: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/12/18
Opens: September 13, 2018
Reversing Roe (2018)
It used to be that politically conscious Americans agreed that the Democratic and Republican parties were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, characters made famous by Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”  The folks in the House and Senate and in state legislatures would do their jobs in such a bipartisan way that pundits could not be blamed if they were bored, as if we all prefer conflict, some signs of life in our legislatures.  This attitude has been reversed.  Democrats unanimously voted for the Affordable Care Act while Republicans unanimously voted against. And while the Supreme Court once decided cases like neutral jurists, now we all know how the nine people with lifetime appointments will vote: it’s all about politics.  If you were appointed by a Republican you voted conservative.  Democrats, progressive.

In this regard Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s “Reversing Roe,” while not even mentioning the name Brett Kavanaugh as presumably his nomination came after the film was completed, has come to theaters now at an opportune time.  How so? While once, the Great Political Slogan was “It’s the economy stupid,” that wages, the stock market and the general health of the dollar was the big issue, now money is second place to social issues, namely gun rights, immigration controversies, and most of all, abortion.  In fact Stern and Sundberg capture the point in the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in which Trump allegedly sews up victory when he concludes that we cannot allow “partial birth” abortions while Clinton came out in protection of women’s reproductive rights.

Never mind that partial birth is not a medical term while referring to fetuses that are “ripped from a woman’ womb,” as only 1.3% of abortions take place then.  Trump does not likely believe in the so-called pro-life movement as he had come out for choice in 1990 and he is arguably one the least religious chiefs of state in our history.  But he knew that would have to win big among evangelicals, so he flipped.

You can try to guess the writer-directors’ own opinions on abortion, but you would have a difficult time doing so, as this documentary is completely fair to both sides.  Each side gets equal time, each side gets famous advocates’ opinions.  However there is absolutely nothing new in what they say.  Anyone who watches the news must be aware of every argument, so this picture, which is cerebral (even while showing violent demonstrations), rehashes controversies that should find a place in a museum of ideas if one is ever constructed.

Republicans, who today are as conservative as they ever were, are generally pro-life. Democrats, who today have moved to center-left, are pro-choice. One side says that government has no business messing with women’s bodies; the other side insists that a fetus is a separate body, a new form of life that should not be “killed.” The most important question that splits our country on this issue is this: when does a life fall under the protection of the U.S. Constitution?  Pro-choice folks say when it is born, i.e. outside of the mothers’ wombs.  Pro-life people say that what is growing inside women’s wombs should be protected, though some say the protection falls at the moment of conception, others stating that it should be protected at some time whether during the first trimester or the second of the third.  Roe v. Wade in 1973 held that abortions must be allowed during the first and second trimesters.

Yet since Roe, some states have tried to interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling that undue burdens must not be placed on pregnant women to mean that you can force a woman to watch a sonogram, to get spousal approval, to go only to institutions that have doctors affiliated with hospitals.

In other words, what’s new?  Still this film is an excellent primer for those so interested in sports that they have no time to learn about the welfare of the United States, i.e. people who used to turn to the last pages of the New York Post or Daily News when people still read newspapers.

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

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

AMERICAN CHAOS – movie review

AMERICAN CHAOS

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  James D. Stern
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 8/23/18
Opens: September 20, 2018
American Chaos Movie Poster
With an introductory remark that “you can’t know another person unless you get into his skin,” James D. Stern takes off on a road trip to what some snobs call flyover country—West Virginia and Arizona—but with stops as well in Miami and Cleveland, the latter being the site of the Republic National Convention in 2016 that certified Donald Trump as nominee for President.  He may not have literally gotten into the skin of Trump supporters, but by playing himself as neutral, he is able to elicit considerable talk from a variety of people in much the way that Claude Lanzmann in “Shoah” in 1985 allowed his subjects to say what they would otherwise keep to themselves if they thought the interviewer were biased against them.

Stern, who lives and breathes politics (his “So Goes the Nation” explored the folks in the Buckeye state before the 2004 presidential election), has an awesome array of 59 production credits, and is in his métier as a friendly but seemingly impartial interviewer.  His subjects are almost all Trump supporters though he occasionally tosses in some comments by Democrats, perhaps to give viewers the feeling that America is not all that chaotic, that there are people who, like one scientist, says that yes, we are undergoing climate change which could prove more dangerous to the earth if steps are not taken quickly.

Except for some moments in the epilogue, Stern deals only with the months before the November 2016 election when people had to get their impression of Trump from what he says rather than what he does, which makes absolutely essential a sequel to discover whether their views have changed, though we already know from the pundits that few Trump supporters have left the fold.

So, what’s wrong with Kansas?  In fact, what’s the secret of Trump’s success across most of the red midlands of our great nation?  The responses are from people who vote for the Republican party—or, if you prefer the language of ex-House speaker John Boehner, the Trump party.  Their views are not unexpected by anyone who has followed politics, whether via Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post and the progressive newspaper, The Arizona Republic.

One subject has an analogy: you don’t want strangers in your home, people you know nothing about, do you?  When we tolerate illegal immigration, we are faced by this dilemma, and in fact, one woman who lives 25 miles from the Mexican border notes (without even winking at the interviewer) that Mexicans sneak across, rape the women, and hang up their underwear as though claiming a victory of sorts.  Thus, she concludes, we must rigorously maintain the power of the Second Amendment—never mind that the Founding Fathers put that into the Constitution soon after colonists were involved in a long war with Britain.

Another respondent argues that previously foreigners have assimilated into the American culture, but not so much now.  They had always kept their ways, perhaps preparing arroz con pollo or imam bayeldi at home, but they will enjoy hot dogs on every Fourth of July. Yet another subject appreciates that the President says what’s on his mind: not like the big bad Democrats who keep their real feelings secretive.  As for climate change, nah: Mother Earth will take care of her own.  Coal miners in West Virginia take Trump seriously when Potus promised to bring back their jobs; never mind that other sources of energy are cleaner and that even if the mines were re-opened, automation would put most West Virginians out of work.

A few state that Trump’s billions do not alienate him from the working class: “He has billions and he can help us become successful.”  As for Hillary Clinton, while at least one subject suggests that she has committed treason “and the penalty for treason is death,” others simply hate her, believing that all she cares about are money and power (unlike Trump, presumably).

Surprisingly the issues of abortion and gay rights are not mentioned at all, giving viewers the impression that they are minor considerations that do not concern them one way or another.  However it must be pointed out that Stern does not interview many evangelicals but rather salt-of-the-earth people who worry only about jobs and immigration and resent people who are given welfare though they do not contribute to society.

Throughout, director Stern does not fade back as the invisible interviewer but appears in every scene, sometimes rolling his eyes for our benefit, sometimes seeming on the verge of tears.  He never lets on, though, that he is anything but a blank slate, a neutral observer.

Behind the lens, Kevin Ford captures sides of the American topography that are only casually known by urban dwellers, while Rose Corr and Kevin Ford at the editing machines keep the film moving at a brisk pace.  A rapid-fire introduction to the movie hones in on previous presidential campaigns, as far back at Teddy Roosevelt’s and with celluloid given to Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, JFK, Barack Obama and Trump.  Though people who follow politics may find nothing new in the commentary, James Stern allows us to get at least hints of the over-all personalities of the subjects.  Democrats in the audience might be expected to guffaw at some of (what they consider) unsophisticated, xenophobic and outlandish comments such as the bit about Hillary’s being guilty of treason.  Audience members on the right will doubtless be motivated to don their red baseball caps and continue to see that America is being made great again.  Sequel! Sequel! Sequel!

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

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

CHAPPAQUIDDICK – movie review

CHAPPAQUIDDICK

Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures & Apex Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  John Curran
Screenwriter:  Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan
Cast:  Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Derm, Jim Gaffigan, Olivia Thirlby
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/27/18
Opens: April 6, 2018
Inline image 1
If an ordinary Joe had a car accident resulting in the death of a passenger, you would probably not hear about it except in your neighborhood paper.  If a well-known figure, a celebrity, simply slapped his partner in public, the incident would gain at least tabloid notice.  The inference here is that you can get away with a lot if you’re an office worker, a drugstore clerk, a stock-room person, but if you are part of the one percent of folks who are well known in their fields, whether politics, the cinema or TV, you’d better watch how you act.  Ah but on the other hand, if you’re one of the aforementioned big shots, you might get the attention of journalists and broadcast media, but your penalty, if any, will be far less than what the ordinary Joe must suffer.

The Kennedy family was made up of anything but ordinary people.  JFK, the handsome, articulate and intelligent public figure, merited the most attention; his brother Robert, or Bobby, a man popular especially with minority groups for his interest in their cause, and ironically Joe, the patriarch, with close ties to the far-right Senator Joe McCarthy, was a vile anti-Semite who referred to Jews as a people who brought the Holocaust on themselves.

John Curran’s “Chappaquiddick” deals with Ted Kennedy, focusing wholly on the incident that we probably remember most about him—not the bills he pushed through the senate, not even his run for president in 1980, but with the accident that did not end his political career (he was re-elected to the senate by strong majorities but would not consider running for the highest office in 1972 and 1976.)  The incident involved Kennedy’s hosting a party in Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard for the so-called Boiler Room Girls, who had worked on his brother Robert’s presidential campaign the year before.  He left the party with one of the women, Mary Jo Kopechne, who had resolved to give up working on presidential campaigns but would continue pushing for local politicians in New Jersey.

When Kennedy and Kopechne tried to cross the Dike Bridge in his 1967 Oldsmobile, a small stretch that did not have a guard rail, he lost control of his car which crashed into the Poucha Pond inlet.  Kennedy stated to the police that while he was able to extricate himself from the car, he dived into the water in a rescue attempt.  He swam to the shore, leaving the young woman trapped in the car, and significantly did not report the accident until the next morning when the body had already been found.

The facts to this day are not altogether clear, and we cannot necessarily rely on the senator’s version of events.  Given that the details are still being debated by wonkish types and others who like to discuss the more sensational aspects of the political game, we cannot necessarily trust director John Curran’s version either.  But one thing is clear: the director has it “in” for the senator and likely for politicians in general.  Having sat in the director’s chair for previous movies about a trek across 1700 miles of Western Australia (“Tracks”) and a cholera epidemic in a Chinese village (“The Painted Veil”), he gives no hint at the subject matter for this work.

Here’s the thing: we don’t know the truth about Chappaquiddick.  Only Ted Kennedy did.  But Curran, using Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s screenplay, thinks the worst.  He shows Kennedy driving Ms. Kopechne at night, at a fast clip, one that appears to have frightened his passenger who does not dare to tell the man to slow down.  We show Kennedy drinking whiskey from a bottle before the drive.  Is this the way a man in one of the nation’s highest offices behaves, and what’s more a fellow who would be expected to have the genteel manners of old money?  After his car skidded on the bridge and did almost a somersault into the water, we don’t know what happened, and Kennedy is shown later pretending to have looked and not found anyone inside the car.  (She was.)  And in a show of how corrupt American politics can become (though by current years we have nothing but saintly figures in high office), Kennedy allows himself to be advised, flattered, given spin by his intimate circle, one which includes especially his cousin Joe Gargan who has served as well as his lawyer and perhaps best friend.

He seems to regard Mary Jo at this point as little more than the person who would prevent him from ever becoming president.  Narcissism is nothing new in politics. Paul Markham, the Attorney General of Kennedy’s state of Massachusetts, comes on strong telling him to report the incident, but Kennedy chooses to wait—presumably to allow his breath to clear of the alcohol that caused the accident.  Had he reported the incident immediately, Kopechne would probably have been saved as she did not die from the impact of the car on water but drowned as water inched its way into the Oldsmobile.  The senator should have been convicted of manslaughter at the very least.  He should have been driven from office by an enraged senate and not found unqualified for dog catcher.  But somehow, as we may have recently learned, the public will accept lies from politicians as long as they are liked and as long as they carry out the policies that the majorities desire.

Bruce Dern is excellent as the venomous father Joe Kennedy, in a wheelchair having suffered a major stroke which deprives him of the ability to speak except to say one word on the phone: “Alibi.”  Dern looks like the creep as well with his proverbial round eyeglasses.   Mary Jo is well played by Kate Mara, who is about to be convinced to play a major part in Ted Kennedy’s forthcoming campaigns.  It’s clear from the director’s intention that Ted is about to hit on the woman, and note that Kennedy’s wife, in a later scene, sits apart from him in the back seat of a car looking hostile.  Best of all, Jason Clarke as the senator looks the part with a toned-down New England accent which from time to time becomes re-attached to his voice, and he looks human.  He worries that his father liked his brother Jack best of all and thought of Ted not in the way the senator thought he should be treated.  He is vulnerable, he calls on his friends for help, and he’s scared.  He’s nothing like the way we have come to think of the man as a knight in shining progressive armor, ready to take on the elements of right-wing reaction that threaten our democracy.  And he repays his electorate for throwing his hat in the ring in the 1980 presidential campaign which, despite the Kennedy name, he loses in the primary to Jimmy Carter.

Rated PG-13.  107 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE DINNER – movie review

  • THE DINNER

    The Orchard
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Oren Moverman
    Written by: Oren Moverman, based on the novel by the Dutch author Herman Koch
    Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/6/17
    Opens: May 5, 2017
    The Dinner Movie Poster
    Fans of Edward Albee’s shattering play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” are going to eat this movie up.  “The Dinner” joins the many previous films about family dysfunction but writer-director Oren Moverman handles the thematic content with genuine sophistication.  Moverman, whose 2009 movie “The Messenger” deals with the ethical struggle of an American soldier when he becomes involved with the widow of a fallen officer is in his métier with “The Dinner.”  This latest contribution involves the moral battle of two families whose sons have committed an atrocious crime, one father suggesting that he may hold a press conference to turn in the two criminals, his reasoning opposed by his brother, his wife and his brother’s wife who believe that idealism has its place, but not when your own families are involved.  Not only does this release deal with ethics: thematically, Moverman brings in the nature of mental illness, the concept of the trophy wife, and the needs of a weak, cynical, emotionally disturbed man whose wife treats him like a wounded bird—to his disgust.

    This superbly acted ensemble brings together Richard Gere in the role of Stan Lohman, a congressman well on his way to becoming the governor of his state; Steve Coogan as his younger brother and former high school history teacher Paul; Laura Linney as Paul’s wife Claire Lohman; and Rebecca Hall as Katelyn Lohman, Stan’s trophy wife.  Stan, who would probably answer the biblical Cain’s rhetorical assertion “Am I My Brother’s Keeper”? with a resounding “yes” to Paul’s dismay.  Paul has been treated by his wife as a man who needs too much support in order to function, and by his older brother as the emotionally disturbed person that he is.  We find out through the incisive dialogue that mental illness runs in the Lohman family, bypassing Stan, the plague resting on Paul’s shoulders.

    When Stan invites Paul and Claire to a dinner at the poshest restaurant you can imagine—one in which the mäitre d’ Dylan Heinz (Michael Chernus) serves not only as sommelier but as a man who lectures the foursome about the origin of each dish, we know right off that we are in the hands of a writer-director who can deal equally with satire and with melodrama.  It’s difficult to believe that the next governor would have to wait three months for the reservation, but we can easily accept that Paul, who feels vastly inferior to his politician brother.  Paul knows, or thinks, that his mother treated Stan as the favored son, that his wife looks down upon him, and must face the contempt of his teen son Michael (Charlie Plummer) who stands up to him, having no problem with cursing his dad out.

    After some semblance of civilized discussion, they change tables to a private room where Stan has something to say that could alter six or seven lives irrevocably.  Why he would choose a public restaurant to reveal such intimate details, especially in front of Paul’s adviser Nina (Adepero Oduye) is anybody’s guess.  Both the sons had committed a terrible crime, the act destined for social media; but so far nobody knows the identity of the perpetrators.  Paul is willing to destroy his own political career, lose his wife to divorce, create a final break with his brother and sister-in-law, and condemn the young lads to a long term in prison.  This is the nature of idealism.  The other three disagree with this decision and let him know as forcibly as they can without actually raising weapons.  For his part, Paul, quoting from the Civil War battle of Gettysburg (we are actually taken to the scene), decides that he would go to war if necessary to defend his family.

    The story is anything but straightforward.  Bobby Bukowsky behind the lens photographs within the lavish restaurant and outside, the suburban streets being the playground of teens Michael, Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and Beau (Miles J. Harvey).  They horse around and find the opportunity to deal with a homeless woman inside an ATM with the kind of cruelty that you see publicized now and then whenever the homeless are bullied merely because they are too weak to fight back.

    The spot-on performances find Steve Coogan reacting against type, the British actor utilizing a perfect American accept, demonstrating the view of himself as a loser in one of the most authentic performances one can imagine in such a role.  His monologue to high school students is the kind of lecture many teachers wish they could get away with.  He is contrasted with the character played by Richard Gere, whose puffed-up white hair and puffed-up personaliy contrast with his brother’s near crew-cut and self-deprecating humor.  At the same time Laura Linney affords us with the most superlative job as the wife who wears the family pants and who is the congressman’s equal in debating the ethics of the situation, while for her part Rebecca Hall, acting in a relatively passive state throughout most of the title dinner launches into a harangue against her husband for treating her like a trophy.

    For his part Charlie Plummer takes such pride in his malicious crime that the movie audience would probably want to send him away for life, or possibly to Syria.  “The Dinner” brings out all the complexities of the novel (available for under $10 at Amazon) at once with cinematic flair and stunning performances.

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