TEST PATTERN – movie review

TEST PATTERN
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shatara Michelle Ford
Writer: Shatara Michelle Ford
Cast: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean, Drew Fuller, Ben Levin, Amani Starnes, Caroline Bloom
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/6/21
Opens: February 19, 2021

Poster

Although “Test Pattern” is reasonably entertaining given the sympatico of the principal couple, the movie comes off more as a didactic fable, perhaps targeted to high-school seniors and college freshman. “Watch what you do” is the message, “Because you never really know what kind of person is showing interest in you.” The plot focuses on Renesha (Brittany S. Hall), a Black woman, and Evan (Will Brill), a White male, who meet at a party in Austin, Texas. Given the general nature of two events, one an outdoor get-together, the other a young people’s bar, you get the idea that we are indeed a post-racial culture, and this in Texas (although Austin, a college town, is known as a place that culturally could be Boston or Minneapolis or L.A.).

When Evan approaches a group of young women and asks Renesha for her phone number, the twenty-something women at her table giggle like a gaggle of high school kids, as though the request came from Brad Pitt or Robert Pattinson. In fact Evan is a tattoo artist who appears to make enough of a living to be independent with an SUV and appears to be outclassed by Renesha, who is more educated and living in a spacious, well-appointed flat. Social class notwithstanding, they click immediately, proceeding happily to the bedroom in what may me their first or second date.

Some time later, Renesha insists that she has a boyfriend at what was supposed to be a girls’ night out. She is chatted up by Mike (Drew Fuller) while Mike’s friend Chris (Ben Levin) displays her charm to Renesha’s friend Amber. (Once again, an indication of a post-racial society.) After being given a drink and a suspicious gummy bear, Renesha is hustled off to a hotel where she is unable to offer physical resistance to what essential is non-consensual sex, i.e. rape. Hearing about the disastrous evening, boyfriend Evan does not break up with her but instead drives her around to hospitals trying to get a rape kit, which she succeeds in receiving after being turned away at two medical centers. Will the rape kit indicate forcible sexual activity? More important, how is a young woman supposed to prove that she was sexually assaulted when she accompanied Mike to a hotel, seemingly penetrated without physical violence? If DNA inspected at police headquarters links to the guy, so what? Indications are consensual sex.

The film is sympathetically acted by Hall and Brill, who do not really look like a pair, as she dresses with classical taste while he dons a fashionably (?) torn white T-shirt. The film is billed as part psychological thriller, but that part is microscopically small. Save it for the sex-ed classrooms.

82 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – movie review

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Adam Brody
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/5/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

Promising Young Woman

If your cable TV viewing is restricted to the output of the NFL you may not see how Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” should remind moviegoers of a real-life drama involving Mr. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, sworn into the highest judicial office in the land despite some credible evidence accusing him of immoral behavior. Just over two years ago, Blasey Ford, a psychology professor, accused Kavanaugh of having sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. Allegedly, a 15-year-old woman was physically restrained by the 17-year-old Kavanaugh, who tried to pull off her clothes and covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream. She escaped. During the Senate hearings, Republicans criticized Blasey Ford for bringing up the accusation so many years later. She may have been secretly believed by some of Kavanaugh’s supporters, who may also have been thinking “boys will be boys,” and “they were just kids in high school.” He was confirmed in a divided Senate vote.

In “Promising Young Woman,” the stakes are similar, but different in that the plot revolves around not boys who will be boys but grown men in medical school. Nina, a med student, was assaulted sexually by male students in the school, most notably by one future doctor now living large, the primary offender. Nina, who is not shown in this film, dropped out of school, hopelessly distraught, while her best friend, Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Carey Mulligan), dropped out as well to take care of her. This is not the only aspect of the script that challenges credibility, but given the riveting nature of the entire production, we can overlook a certain absence of pure logic.

Cassie, now thirty years old, still living with her parents (they gifted her on her birthday with a suitcase as a hint), because she cannot make enough money as a lowly barista to be on her own. Of course she has never forgotten her friend Nina, whose victimhood still affects her life eight years later. And she is determined to get revenge on everyone involved in Nina’s sexual assault, including Dean Walker (Connie Britton), director of admissions at the school who covered up for the young man guilty of the rape. During the hearing, Jordan (Alfred Molina) the man’s lawyer, has apparently been covering up for several defendants, but is off the hook with Cassie because he now has remorse. She is to get retribution confronting the guilty men, but on a more global scale, by entrapping bar-hopping gents in general by pretending to be drunk, agreeing to follow them to their apartments and homes, and suddenly “sobering up,” confronting them with their amorality in taking advantage of a drunk. What the plot does not explain is how she believes the men would all back off at this point, retreating in their shame and allowing her to escape unmolested from their domains.

Along with such lapses of logic and dismissals by Cassie of the harm into which she places herself is a police investigation in the concluding scenes, solving a crime as though they were psychics. But let even that pass since the film is embraced by a terrific script from writer-director Emerald Fennell in her freshman narrative feature. (Her short, “Careful How You Go,” is about malevolent women, as though giving balance to the current tale of dirty young men.) Anchoring all most famously is Carey Mulligan in the title role, an actress who can scracely do wrong, whether in the role of the headstrong Victorian woman Bathsheba Everdene in “Far From the Madding Crowd,” Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby,” or Jennie Mellor as a woman coming of age in “An Education.” The London-born marvel has no problem with an American accent.

I know a lot of men who would shrink under their theater seats while watching this with their girlfriends, but lucky enough the film is being streamed, so they can disappear under their desks. This is Christmas fare for all those who would prefer their Hallmark love stories to turn out as dark comedy.

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

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

 

#FEMALE PLEASURE – movie review

#FEMALE PLEASURE

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barbara Miller
Screenwriter: Barbara Miller
Cast: Deborah Feldman, Leyla Hussein, Rokudenashiko, Doris Wagner, Yithika Yadav
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

#Female Pleasure (2018)

During the Age of Aquarius in America, Joan Baez would sing “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband for the rest of her life.” You might not think that in free America—as compared, for example with Saudi Arabia—that women have it so bad, but of course there’s room even in our country before we can declare the two sexes absolutely equal. Things are worse, then, in some parts of the world, and Barbara Miller, who wrote and directs “#Female Pleasure,” takes us around the globe from Brooklyn to Japan to India and to the UK and to Italy, where women activists are challenging the rules enforced upon them by religion or by culture. You come away with the impression that Karl Marx was right in saying that religion was invented by men to keep women down–though he could add repressive cultures in general.

The Swiss director hones in on five women, capturing their legitimate beefs through both the interview format and through observing them living their lives. In one case she indicts entire societies in discussing the evil practice of FGM, or female genital mutilation, in which babies, really, five-year-old girls, are held down and have their clitoris cut out so that they cannot feel sexual pleasure. Strangely, though, the women do not explain why this is done. Presumably this is to prevent women from straying from their husbands. In other cases, religion, which of course is part of a culture, is indicted, interpreted by men to pronounce themselves superior to women and to exploit them for their own satisfaction.

The woman whose story meant the most for me was Deborah Feldman, as I had read her book “Unorthodox,” there describing her view of the Hasidic religious sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was one of the few who actually left, taking off on her own, living in Greenwich Village, her book describing her dismal view of the highly Orthodox people who do not allow women to choose their mates. (I think she did a disservice on those pages in which she tells all, describing the sexual practices of her ex-husband which must have humiliated him.) Feldman is seen driving her son inside the Hasidic community, asking him whether she should return to the fold and getting the obvious answer from the young man, “Let’s get out.” And that’s a male talking! We see films of Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, where the residents post large signs about respecting the local culture. Women are told to dress modestly—long sleeve shirts, skirts down about her ankles, though what Feldman could have added is that tourists who walk through the community with outfits that the residents consider immodest are spat upon, the women addressed as whores.

At least nobody in the Hasidic culture favors FGM. The bizarre custom of cutting a woman’s genitals when she is but a small child occurs largely in North Africa—Egypt, Somalia, for example, but also in Kenya. We hear from Leyla Hussein, who had the procedure forced on her. Like Feldman, she ultimately escaped the repressiveness by moving to the UK. At the very least she has convinced women in the expate Somali community to the anti-FGM cause, and when she visited the Masai in Kenya, learning that these women too had been mutilated, she gets their pledge not to do the same to their own daughters. As for the view that, hey, men, too are mutilated by some cultures by having their foreskins removed, she counters that the equivalent would be to have their entire penises removed.

Rokudenashiko, the nickname of manga artist Megumi Igarashi which means “good for nothing,” put vaginas in her cartoons for which she was arrested, tried, and acquitted of that charge, but she was convicted for making 3D images of the vagina, creating necklaces, iPhone cases and even a kayak using her own vulva as the design.

Miller also gives time to Doris Wagner, a German nun who claims that she was raped more than once by a priest, though we wonder why she would remain in the convent after a single instance, particularly since her charge was not taken seriously. She had written to Pope Francis, receiving no response, and is now a free woman who loves pop songs which, unlike what she heard in the convent deals with real human emotions.

Vithika Yadav, a feminist activist in India, makes us aware that the government in India appears not to take rape seriously, thinking, perhaps, that “Boys will be boys.” A street demonstration cast with men sympathetic to her cause reenacts the humiliation that women go through.

Some might say that the film is “all over the place,” since it deals with a variety of themes from genital mutilation to arranged marriage, but all falls under the umbrella of ways that women are not valued as much as are men, looked upon—except by me and you—as nothing more than baby-making machines whose pleasure is considered unimportant by men. If you are “woke,” i.e. socially aware, you know and rejects the attitude of male supremacy unearthed by this fascinating trip around the globe. Even so, you will be attentive to the sharp visuals in Jiro Akiba, Gabriela Betschart and Anne Misselwitz’s photography.

The film garnered awards and nominations at film festivals in Locarno, Leipzig, Austria and Thessalonika.

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

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

ROLL RED ROLL – movie review

ROLL RED ROLL

Together Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nancy Schwartzman
Cast: Alexandria Goddard, J.P. Rigaud, Rachel Bissel , Scott Pelley, Chris Cuomo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/26/19
Opens: March 22, 2019

The average person watching this documentary—which unfolds like a real crime thriller—might think that the case became so big because it is almost unique in the U.S. After all, if Chris Cuomo of CNN covers it, if Scott Pelley puts his views on it, and if German and Chinese newspapers find the case involving enough, does rape involving high-school students happen maybe once every five years? I can tell you as a former fraternity member who has watched women go to parties, get drunk to the point of throwing up and passing out, that things might have happened under the radar that are as outrageous as the case brought here. I have never seen an actual case of rape involving inebriated women—who by law are not able to give informed consent no matter what they say—but I would guess that this type of felony goes around. In my day there were no computers, no internet, certainly no Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. If there were, and if guys would text one another laughing about what they did with have girl, there would be many other cases like the one in Nancy Schwartzman’s riveting doc based on painful re-creation. Somehow, the situation in Steubenville, Ohio merited international publicity and can be used as a case study of the “boys-will-be-boys the “hey-they’re-football-players-what-would-you-expect” attitude.

In 2012 a 16-year-old girl was raped by two teens on the Steubenville, Ohio football team, kids who might have a reason to think that they’re special because the whole town would turn out to watch the games. This small-town high school shows off a squad of cheerleaders, the biggest cheerleaders being the packed stands where spectators would applaud wildly and hold signs like “Roll Red Roll,” the name that the team has embraced.

In this re-creation, Matt Bockelmon is behind the lenses while the three-person team of editors shift from tweets sent out by the boys including their hysterical laughing about how the girl was “trained,” to the team out on the field, to Alex Goddard, a crime blogger who got the interest of widespread media in the case. The potential witnesses are interviewed by Detective J.P. Rogaud, leading to the arrest of the rapists, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Strangely no attorney is present during the questioning.

Using clever and to-the-point animation, director Schwartzman in her debut documentary reproduces the tweets. For her efforts, Goddard incurred the hatred of the town given the support of the football team, and perhaps the fear that the games would close down or be suspended if action were taken against players. Goddard could not on her own have generated the interest. Instead Rachel Bissel, a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, brought the events to national attention, and later the NY Times covered the story as did major TV networks like CNN. During the trial at the country courthouse, hundreds of folks, mainly women, showed up outside with signs, which perhaps led the police to investigate further and uncover other similar stories, one involving a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped. Other women showed up with stories of their own rapes, some decades ago, which they did not report, fearing humiliation.

One statistic has it that one out of three women has been raped in this country at one time or another. Fortunately for the two boys in this case, their age—seventeen—protected them from a long sentence; just a minimum of one year each, though one of the boys was sentenced to an additional year for tweeting pictures.

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

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

UNA MOVIE REVIEW

  • UNA

    Swen Releasing
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: C+
    Director:  Benedict Andrews
    Written by: David Harrower based on his play “Blackbird”
    Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Tobias Menzies, Indira Varma, Tara Fitzgerald, Riz Ahmed
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/26/17
    Opens: October 13, 2017
    Una Movie Poster
    If you were a 27-year-old woman who had carried on a Lolita-style affair with a man 15 years older, how would you feel about the molestation?  Would you forget about it and move on?  Would you want revenge, maybe even think of killing him?  Would you feelings be confused if after he did time, you tracked him down to learn more about his feelings?  The Scottish writer David Harrower’s 2005 play called “Blackbird,” inspired in part by the crimes of sex offender Toby Studebaker,  starred Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams.  If you saw that, you would likely say that Harrower knows how to write women.


    I’d be inclined to agree, at least to some extent, since “Una,” the name given to the film release, tracks its theatrical origins with a center that is a two-hander between Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) and Una (Rooney Mara), with ample time given to Una’s life fifteen years earlier and played by Ruby Stokes.  Needless to say there are flashbacks hitting the screen each time that the mature Una finds herself in a situation similar to that experienced years earlier, but ultimately Una remains a movie version of a theater work that is insufficiently opened up to make for a top-level production.  Nor does it help that much of the dialogue uses British accents (Mara is from Westchester County, New York while Mendelsohn is Australian).
    One can’t help thinking of Rooney Mara’s role in “The Social Network,” the film that gave her a big boost, a college student who rejects the pretentious young man who would become the founder of Facebook.  Here she has a different role: instead of rejecting the man who did not put her down verbally like Zuckerberg character, she can’t get enough of him: she thinks about her molester regularly, a man whom she thought loved him and who disappeared leaving her in a motel room alone after a three-months’ affair.  When she sees his picture in the paper, she tracks him down to a huge factory where he had taken a new name, Peter.  She visits the factory during working hours, insists on seeing him, gets together with him in a break room and then in a bathroom stall where they have sex.

    She is a woman with conflicted emotions, while he, having served time and now living with a new identity, would like to get rid of her.  Or would he?  Anger, curiosity and confusion create havoc in her mind, leading her at one point to fling objects in the break room into the walls.  But clearly she has not gotten over her months of love on the cusp of adolescence.

    Despite her craziness, part of her desires revenge while she is to get him out of her mind Whatever harm she does to him now is nothing like what Ellen Page’s character in “Hard Candy” manages when she gets her hands on her rapist.  In that sense “Una” is more complex than Page’s Hayley Stark, but given the way much of the dialogue is whispered, with the film sound kept low, “Una” comes across less than satisfying.

    Unrated.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?