THE CURVE – movie review

Jet Black Iris Production
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Adam Benzine
Writer: Adam Benzine
Cast: Sonia Shah, Wendy Parmet, Dr. Steven Taylor, Ilan Goldenberg, Ed Yong, Jim Rutenberg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/30/20
Opens: October 27 through Nov. 4 2020 only. Go to

Imagine that a Martian, thinking of emigrating to America, is watching “The Curve” to get a true picture of the U.S. in 2020. She aims her computer to She goes to the concluding minutes, figuring on getting a summing up, and by the time she hears our president rating himself a 10 on a 1 to 10 scale for effectiveness in fighting a virus, she’s ready to pack her family spaceship. But first, she goes back to the beginning of this film which everyone can watch for free on She’s dismayed by the scenes of what looks like a banana republic. Here’s what she sees.

Hospitals are filled. Every bed in every ICU is taken with people who, largely because the 10 out of 10 president did not warn the American people in January 2020 that a pandemic is on its way to our shores. Under pressure, he relents, warns us of a virus, but tells us not to wear masks. He does not wear a mask, though despite his many bankruptcies he can probably still afford one. He sets an example followed by people whose idea of TV news is Fox, because Fox tells its viewers that every other channel has nothing but fake news. The Martian—her name is M’Gann M’Orzz—unpacks the space ship, making sure that she warns her family to watch out, because the virus can reach them some day, so long citizens of China are not satisfied eating pork, beef and chicken but insist on feeding themselves with bat, dog, cat, snake and rat.

The doc by the Toronto-based Adam Benzine is his freshman entry, having previously directed a short “Claude Lanzmann” about Lanzmann’s filming of the Shoah. No question that Benzine’s pic is an antidote to Fox news, a takedown of the president who, if he were running European countries whose legislatures are empowered to deliver votes of no confidence, would have his butt tossed out in a few weeks. Trump is not the only problem. He could not have done his best to destroy our country were he not enabled by a sycophantic Senate, refusing to do the job given to them by the founders of our country, to check a runaway chief executive. Ultimately the people who are not voting give Trump another four years are the real problem, folks who have been bamboozled, people who believe that saving fetuses is more important than preserving the lives of actual human beings, the American people.

For this doc, which Benzine secretly made over a seven-months’ period covering the Covid-19 from mid-January to mid-April, he backs up interviews with analysts, epidemiologists, authors, journalists and politicians, effectively backed up by archival films including several minutes on Liberia—an undeveloped country too poor to be able to contain the virus. What’s our excuse?

The documentary is solidly made, its chief problem being the music, which belongs on the soundtrack of blockbuster thrillers rather than on a film that is a sober meditation on how the world’s richest country with a military that costs more than that of the next ten countries, is being pummeled by a global enemy that nobody can see.

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

Story – A
Acting – B
Technical – C (the music)
Overall – B


THE WAY I SEE IT – movie review

Focus Features
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dawn Porter
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/11/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

The Way I See It Movie Poster

This vivid, colorful documentary, some scenes filled with heartbreak and compassion, others with humor and joie de vivre, is as much about the photographer and the way he sees it as about the Presidents that he photographs. Pete Souza, a world-class photographer with a personality to match, is seen here as the chief shutterbug who has spent much of his career almost literally by President Obama’s side. He captures iconic images of Obama, a man he obviously considers not only a good friend but a hero, and adds pungency to the tale by comparing the dignified African-American leader with his ideological and extra-large small man who followed and who thinks nothing of anybody but himself and perhaps his immediately family.

The two million folks who follow Souza on Instagram might be familiar with a previous look of the lenser in the National Geographic 2010 movie “The President’s Photographer,” but while that excellent treatment deals with previous photographers as well, “The Way I See It” gives short shrift to Souza’s predecessor, President Reagan, in order to concentrate more fully on the wonderful personality of the man behind the lenses.

No sooner does Souza state that he believes empathy to be the most important emotion of a national leader than we reflexively see that this is a guy who has no use for Donald J. Trump. This movie comes out just a hop, skip and jump after the publication of the photographer’s book “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” which, put simply, sets up two columns. In one lie the hateful tweets of the incompetent bozo now in the White House, a loser who, thanks to the Electoral College was put into office despite being behind Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes, with Barack Obama. In fact commenting on the décor in the White House, Souza notes that he “like [s] the old drapes better than the new ones.” Therein lies a clever metaphor by which Souza “dropped shade,” which is to say disrespecting the current resident in the Oval Office, and changed him from being a fly on the wall, albeit a highly talented one, to becomes an outspoken photo-journalist.

Director Dawn Porter, whose “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the late member of the House of Representatives from Georgia embracing his sixty years fighting for civil rights, immigration reform and gun control, gives President Obama much of her time in moving picture images but allows Pete Souza to hold forth in a Madison, Wisconsin speech before a packed audience, with many of his favorite photos on the screen. Motion picture imagery aside, Souza makes the point that there is still a need for still photos, hopefully riveting the viewer on key moments in a President’s eight years. One shot that would impress even high school pupils who give the impression that they’ve “seen it all” finds Obama playing a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love, former professional athlete and then Obama’s “body man.” Imagine Obama’s pleasure when he discovers that Souza captured his block of his opponent, ordering that it be blown up and signed by Love.

While Ms. Porter uses motion picture film of the dramatic moment when Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel to announce to the House of Representatives that the Affordable Care Act had passed, she finds the former President’s empathy best illustrated in shots showing him shedding genuine tears while hugging the parents of the twenty children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Porter, who in her own medium performs a service as important as Souza’s, highlights the moment during his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed at the Charleston church shooting, that Obama says “Amazing Grace” twice, then connects with the vast audience by singing the song.

This is a deeply moving film, one filled with tears and smiles, pathos and laughter, a paean to a President, his photographer, and moments in history which, thanks greatly to still photographs, will never be forgotten.

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

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


THE FINAL YEAR – movie review


Magnolia Pictures/HBO Documentary Films
Director: Greg Baker
Screenwriter: Greg Baker
Cast: Barack Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 1/4/18
Opens: January 19, 2018

The choice made by Greg Baker, who handles the direction of “The Final Year,” to end this film with the Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are a Changing” is strange. Baker is clearly a fan of the Obama administration and heartbroken at the dramatic upset made by the Republicans in the last presidential election. Now what Dylan is saying is a progressive message: our country has been moving leftward since its inception. Yet the election showed an America in changing times that make Dylan’s plea ironic; fearful of progressive upticks; of strides made by minorities, women and gays in particular. This is an America heading back in time, a reactionary idea that would have us trashing the gains of Obamacare, the environment, climate research, all as though it were simply an attempt to get back at our forty-fourth president.

Sometimes the pendulum swings back before it can move forward again. As you watch Barack Obama, noting his lean build, his empathetic demeanor, his law school professorial speech, you can’t help comparing him most favorably to the current leader, who boasts and lies with all the rationality of a drunken sailor as he strides about like a colossus, his paunch leading the way. If you can’t shed a tear by the time the movie concludes—when you see Obama’s senior staff pulling down the framed certificates on the walls and filling cardboard boxes with the items they can’t bear leaving, you probably pulled the lever for Trump.

Teary emotions notwithstanding, Baker’s doc gives the viewer a look at four powerful people during their final year in Washington, listening to their views when talking to the camera or to the people whose paths they cross. You see John Kerry, a secretary of state largely responsible for a solid treaty with Iran, but we do not see him as we see Téa Leoni in the role of Madam Secretary, lovey-dovey with her important husband and her three children and walking about the neighborhood seemingly unaccompanied by the secret service. You watch Samantha Power, who served our country as U.N. ambassador but whose miles around the world make her look like a secretary of state. Ben Rhodes, then our national security adviser doubling as speechwriter, appears ironically (for a speechwriter) unable to let out a single sentence as the camera finds him in shock just after the announcement of a Trump victory. Of course President Obama, who won two terms of office and had stated that he could have beaten Trump, is the hero of any true-blooded American patriot who believes that we should strive for a world dedicated to peace, and not one who believes we should turn the clock back to 1920 or 1890 or take-a-guess, when we did not have to worry about pollution or climate change or how to pay the medical bills pre-health-sector technology that has raised the ante on costs.

Relatively little time is spent in the Oval Office by Martina Radwan and Erich Roland’s cameras. Instead we go to Cameroon, Austria, Chad, Greenland, Laos, Vietnam, Hiroshima, and Nigeria and to archival films on Syria at war. We observe an empathetic Powers console Nigerian women whose daughters have been kidnapped by the Boko Haram. We see John Kerry negotiating with a smiling counterpart in Iran. We watch as Ambassador Power takes down the Russian Federation at the U.N. for Russia’s role in Syria.

Voters for the Democratic party, 2.5 million people more than those voting for the GOP, can take heart by Power’s concluding view that “The idea that we could go gently into the night…has been vanquished.” We may have to wait twelve months for a change in Congress and twice as long to cast our ballot for a read leader in the White House as opposed to the current fake, but hope breathes eternal in the human breast.

Unrated. 89 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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