Focus Features
Reviewed for & 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-


CORPUS CHRISTI – movie review

Film Movement
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jan Komasa
Screenwriter: Mateusz Pacewicz
Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Leszek Lichota
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/13/20
Opens: June 23, 2020

Corpus Christi Poster

You may leave this film, a rigorous drama embellished with Catholic ritual, with a thought.

When Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is about to leave juvenile detention in a small Polish community, he tells the institution’s priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlatl), that he wants to work in a seminary. Daniel might be considered teacher’s pet by his youthful fellow convicts who spend their time training to work in a sawmill. He is the one called upon by the priest to add to the devotionals, sings the 23rd Psalm without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment, and thinks rightly that he could minister to a small town congregation. But Tomasz cautions that with his record, no seminary would take him on. What’s puzzling is: why is it so difficult for an ex-convict, anywhere, any country, to be trusted with a responsible job, even one that is not known for having cash around?

Daniel eschews working in a sawmill and takes a bus to a distant community where he becomes a fake priest. He convinces the vicar (Zdzislaw Wardejn) that he has been recently ordained in Warsaw, whips out a clerical collar with which he absconded, and is asked by the vicar to take his place for a while as he goes off to take care of health problems.

The dark, intense, absorbing and surprisingly credible tale of revenge and redemption is directed by Jan Komasa, whose “Warsaw 44” is a tale of the uprising against the Nazis, with a story line that features love, friendly and adventure. “Corpus Christi” is a more intimate story which benefits greatly from Bielenia’s stunning performance as twenty-year-old who may be faking his credentials but is the real thing otherwise; a fellow whose ministrations to his small-town flock leads to record numbers at services including absolute trust in him as parishioners go to confession.

Aside from the principal action in which we in the audience may suspect that a reckoning, there is a secondary plot. A middle-aged man had crashed his car into a vehicle holding six youths, killing all. The vicar, with the support of the community including the sacristy caretaker Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), refuses to bury the man. Daniel goes against the opinion of everyone except the widow (Barbara Kurzaj) of the “murderer” and the caretaker’s daughter, Marta (Elilza Rycembel), who is sexually attracted to the priest. He bucks even the town mayor and leading employer (Leszek Lichota) who wants the planned burial to just go away, Daniel must face a crossroads when inevitably, people back at “juvie” discover the fraud.

If this were a documentary or a “Christian” feature, the moral would be: give former convicts a chance a redemption. As a drama, the same noble message would come across, but more importantly, “Corpus Christi,” with its powerful performance by a 28-year-old with a passionate gaze, will serve as a dramatized sermon that few actual religious leaders can regularly match.

The movie is in Polish with English subtitles and benefits hugely by the absence of music in the soundtrack. “Corpus Christi” was the Polish entry for the 2020 Academy Awards for International Feature.

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

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

I, OLGA HEPNAROVA – movie review


    Outsider Pictures and Strand Releasing
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda
    Written by: Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda, story by Roman Cilek “Ja Olga Hepnarova
    Cast: Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlat, Klara Meliskova, Marika Soposka, Juraj Nvota, Marta Mazurek, Zuzana Stavna
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 3/14/17
    Opens: March 24, 2017

    Murder is a man’s game.  There are far more Ted Bundys than there are Lizzie Bordens.  In fact so few women commit murder worldwide that you remember the few who have committed the ultimate offense.  Still, one wonders how many people outside of the Czech Republic heard of Olga Hepnarova, who not only killed eight people at once but was the last woman executed in her country.  Now there’s Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s “I, Olga Hepnarova, a film which could inspire more people to order Roman Cilek’s paperback book from Amazon, where it lies awaiting a single review.

    The facts, however cherry-picked, could have been made into a Hollywood blockbuster film, an intense melodrama like Robert Wise’s 1958 movie “I Want to Live,” featuring Rita Hayworth as Barbara Graham who is executed for murder.  Or it could have been done in the style of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1989 “Dekalogue,” a series of films based on the 10 Commandments one of which involves not only murder but a grisly look at what happens to a condemned criminal at the moment he is hanged.  In fact, “Olga,” like “I Want to Live,” is done in a film noir manner, but is more like “Dekalogue,” in that the nourish, black-and-white photography by Adam Sikora exudes a color-free image of cinema verité journalism.  Director Tomas Weinreb is known to Czech audiences for his “Vsechno Je Sraka” about a fellow who spent half a year in a relationship with a murderer before the crime (so this movie is right up his alley). Petr Kazda shares the director’s chair in his freshman film.

    It’s easy to figure out the bleak, black-and-white tone of the film: it’s a reflection of the troubled mind of Olga Hepnarova (Michalina Olszanska), a young woman who was abused or ignored by her father (Vickor Vrabek) and mother (Klara Meliskova).  Her mother is a dentist whose communication with Olga goes little further than writing prescriptions for drugs that could ease the young woman’s confused mind.  Olga perhaps exaggerates the extent of her bullying by women her own age and her parents, even her teachers.  We don’t see much of it on screen.   Why is she the one who is picked on, since after all, bullied subjects are generally outliers in their communities?  This could be because of her introversion, her unwillingness to connect with others, or maybe even her lesbianism, which she discovered late in her teens leading her into a brief relationship with Jitka (Marika Soposka).  But Jitka threw her over for one Jana, her regular bedmate, leading Olga to travel further down the road to depression.

    Theme-wise, there’s nothing new about a woman who thirsts for revenge against a society that she believes he done her wrong.  The more melodramatic film on the subject, “Carrie,” shows the title figure bringing mayhem upon her town through telekinesis.  Olga has no super-powers, but this woman, who is considered a tomboy and therefore given a job as the driver of a truck, one day mows down twenty elderly people on the sidewalk, killing eight.  She dooms herself several times: first by telling the arresting officer, who suggests that she fell asleep at the wheel or that the brakes did not hold, “I did it on purpose.”  Then she begs the five-judge panel to give her the death penalty so that her crime would achieve international coverage, leading the greater society to see what harms are committed by bullying.

    As stated, this is not a movie for “Carrie” fans or for advocates of blockbuster melodrama, but is rather a serious, sometimes ponderous work involving several instances of the camera’s simply standing till in an empty hallway, or gazing at Olga’s face, which is usually downcast and sad.  The most significant feature, one that could lead to appreciation for an audience not too big on stasis, is Michalina Olszanka’s somber performance of the troubled lass.  She served as a memaid in Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure” and later this year in Andrey Malyukov’s “Sobibor,” based on a true story about an escape from an extermination camp.  You can believe that she can kill.

    “I, Olga Hepnarova” was filmed in Dolnoslaskie, Poland with dialogue in Czech.  There is no mood music on the soundtrack.  Did I say this is serious stuff?

    Unrated.  105 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

THE VILLAINESS – movie poster


Well Go USA
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, 411 Celeb
Grade: B
Director:  Jung Byung-gil
Written by: Jung Byung-gil, Jung Byung-sik
Cast: Kim Ok-vin, Shin Han-kyu, Bang Sung-jun, Kim So-hyung
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 8/1/17
Opens: August 25, 2017

This cheerfully brainless Korean action drama sports a plot with almost as many digressions and distractions in its 129 minutes than Donald Trump dishes out in half that time.  There is so much blood covering the walls, spurting from noses, foreheads and necks that you’d think South Korea is under attack by Kim Jong-un.  Yet for all its martial-arts, vid-game activity, “The Villainess” could be disappointing to a core base of the millions who enjoy spending all their leisure (and work) time competing on their computers because the story could require multiple viewings to deconstruct.  Have patience: everything works out by the end, or maybe not: the back-stories, the flashbacks, all serve to allow us in the audience to know the motives of the principals.  Did I say many, i.e. those who blinked at any point, may need to see it again?

In the tradition of the cinema of Korean mayhem such as Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge drama “Old Boy,” in which a man imprisoned for 15 years must wreak vengeance within five days—and of all-American fare like Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” released the same year, “The Villainess” also reminds us of one of the great thrillers of its kind, Luc Besson’s “La femme Nikita.”  “Nikita” was popular enough to be remade here in a simpler Hollywood form as “The Point of No Return.”  Here, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), whose goal in life is to avenge the murder of her father, is compelled by a secret government organization to work as an assassin.  She is bound to the group for ten years, after which she will be freed with a nice pension (though one wonder whether the government had to spend much tax money on retirements given the short spans of life enjoyed by its agents).

Director Jung Byung-gil wastes no time capturing the attention of the audience, many of whom don’t give much of a fig for motives but are in their seats to enjoy seven minutes of butchery.  Sook-hee alone takes on scores of men, some with Arnold Schwarzenegger builds, hacking them with swords, belting them in their noses, stabbing them in the neck. The mayhem is the work of choreographer Kwon-Gui-duck, who in one scene features ballerinas doing their pas-de-deux in bold contrast to the “dances” going on within the building.  Sook-hee’s mentor, Chief Kwon (Kim Seo-hyung) allows Sook-hee to leave the building with her cute daughter at which time, the flashbacks are loosed making the movie more incomprehensible than “Dunkirk” with that war film’s three interwoven time threads.

The most interesting aspect, strangely enough, is not the violence, but the courtship between Sook-hee and Hyun-so (Bang Sung-jun), perhaps because romance is something that everything in the U.S. and Korea can understand.  Hyun-soo lives next door to Sook-hee, courting her with such erotic conversations as “I can make you boiled chicken,” but the nice young man is in fact a secret agent sent to keep tabs on Sook-hee.

Breathtaking scenes include one in which the title villainess on her wedding day puts together a sniper’s rifle in the bathroom, which as we learned from “The Godfather” is the place for gangsters to hide guns. She trains the telescopic site on her target, which, for added suspense, moves in and out among the men present—and we discover as well that both the bride and the groom each have hired guests at the festivities.

If you love mass executions and don’t care about the reasons—much as in today’s world countries are at war without really knowing why—go for it.  If you want romance only, then stick to “Hotelier,” “Alone in Love,” and “Full House,” all showing on South Korean TV.

Rated R.  129 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?


  • 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?