YES, GOD, YES – movie review

YES, GOD, YES
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriter: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/16/20
Opens: July 27, 2020

giclee Poster - Yes God Yes (Natalia Dyer) 2020 Movie 12"x18"

Horace, one of the wise men of ancient Rome, once said, aturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. Latin may be a dead language but it’s alive enough to know the proverb’s truth, which is: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it will always come back.” In other words, no matter what we say, no matter what homilies we think we live by, we are all hypocrites if we think we can really fight against our natural inclinations, both emotional and sexual. Here’s an example. Some time back some teen-age girls in high school took oaths of virginity administered by the Catholic church and some Baptist denominations—to refrain for intercourse until marriage. According to the poll, by graduation day, 75% of the girls had lost their virginity. Which brings us to this comedy taking place in a Catholic high school somewhere in a rural district composed of handsome homes and youngsters from the middle class.

“Yes, God, Yes” sounds like a stereotyped version of what women scream in the midst of an organism, or it could refer to kids who say “yes” to Jesus but are not likely to abide the strict rules of the church. You’d have to ask Karen Maine, the film’s writer and director in her freshman contribution to the world of narrative comedies. She situates the scene amid high schoolers who are well behaved and who seem not to tell jokes about how nuns rapped their knuckles in grade school or by the funny conversations among a priest, a rabbi and a minister who meet in a bar. There are no gross-out scene that might be typical of the Farrelly brothers in “There’s Something About Mary,” but even better, the comedy comes from situations that might very well take place in a parochial institution.

While the school’s priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and pregnant teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Chaplin) lead a four-day retreat that includes senior class would-be devotees as student leaders, Alice (Natalia Dyer), a bright but confused 16-year-old, recalls the priest’s lecture back in class to the effect that Jesus does not want unmarried women to have sex. He explains that men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens; the former get turned on in a second, the latter take some more time to be in the mood. We watch nature overcome Catholic rules over the course of the brief, 78-minute story, as even Father Murphy must succumb to the wisdom of Horace’s proverb and so does 17-year-old Nina (Alisha Boe).

Perhaps the boldest epiphany driving the movie occurs during a scene in a lesbian bar a short walk from the retreat when Gina (Susan Blackwell), the owner, asks Alice what goes on in the retreat, and dishes out wise counsel to the young woman who until then thinks she has no choice other than to go to college a half-hour from home. Look into colleges in the east coast and west coast to get your education, she advises—which makes you wonder what she’s doing in a one-horse town. Eat sushi. That half-hour meeting will likely be more convincing to Alice than anything she learns from the school or her home.

If the movie is anti-Catholic, it generally pulls its punches, allowing even the pious in the audience, while listening to an array of songs both original and known, to pick up its gentle message without urging everyone to boycott the picture. As Alicia, Natalia Dyer, who came of age in real life with her role as Nancy Wheeler in the Netflix horror series, “Stranger Things” (33 episodes), is an absolute charmer whose frowns clear up as she knocks her school officials down a peg or two.

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

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

AVIVA – movie review

AVIVA
Outsider Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Boaz Yakin
Screenwriter: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Zina Zinchenko, Bobbi Jene Smith, Tyler Phillips, Or Schraiber, Omri Drumlevich, Mouna Soualem
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/28/20
Opens: June 12, 2020

Writer-director Boaz Yakin may lead a life full of conflicts—a good thing because that is how people become creative—but his characters are certainly not lacking in bodily motion. His personal movie “Aviva” is chock-full of nudity, writhing bodies and modern dance and would have probably received an NC-17 rating rather than opting for NR, or not rated. It is not only about to be the year’s horniest film; it has the kind of dancing by veterans of Israel’s Batsheva troupe that Tschaikowsky (“Swan Lake,” Sleeping Beauty”) would not have understood. For that matter I wonder how many viewers will understand the film, given its use of masculine and feminine characterizations that serve to show us women with masculine sides and men with their feminine proclivities. Not that gender bending is unknown to the cinema, as it is expressed also by Luis Buñuel in his 1977 film “The Obscure Object of Desire,” in which a former chambermaid is played by two persons who differ physically as well as temperamentally.

In an interview, Yakin had said that his “adult creative life has been this very, very upsetting push and pull between trying to find a way to fit myself…This time I didn’t want to limit myself at all.” There it is: the background of a film seemingly without limits, one that deserves a second and third viewing to sort out the confusion as you watch a woman played in some scenes by a man and a man performing in the physical persona of a woman.

There are two principal players, the title character Aviva (Zina Zinchenko) and a man (Tyler Phillips), and then again Aviva as a man (Or Schraiber) and Eden as a woman (Bobbi Jene Smith). When Aviva moves from Paris to New York to be with Eden, the gent gets cold feet, conflicted over whether to marry her. (We are told in press notes that Aviva is based on the director’s relationship with his ex-wife Alma Har’el.) To understand this difficult, theatrical movie you must be aware that Aviva becomes a man unpredictably while Eden morphs into a woman, the idea being that they are expressing, respectively, their masculine and feminine sides.

As with any love affairs, most of the excitement is in the early stages, shown creatively enough in Eden and Aviva’s dancing through city streets—which may remind you of Gene Kelly’s resonating with an umbrella, singing in the rain. Aren’t first love and hormonal youth exhilarating? Eden and Aviva’s relationship are on and off, filled with both anticipation and heartbreak. When Eden is dabbling with his feminine side he changes from an indecisive male to a female full of hormonal tension. There are repeated scenes of sexual congress that border on hard core, with male and female frontal nudity displayed as though nakedness should be embraced (literally).

The best scenes, though, are those involving dances, particularly from a trio of thirteen-year-olds meant presumably to reflect the director’s childhood in the happiest moments, played here by Roman Maldenda. He and his two pals rap and show off terpsichorean talents in Coney Island, the iconic Wonder Wheel serving as background. Equally electrifying is a dance number in a bar as a group of denizens acting like Greek men showing their camaraderie with their footwork, burst forth with enough energy to light up the city.

The movie is overlong, though, and too intent on sexual scenes which seem thrown in to turn on a theater audience with vicarious thrills, the men, at least while they are still men, performing energetic thrusts to the gasps of the women who seem unable to get enough. Still, given the way that commercial films are equally repetitive, albeit with guns and car crashes rather than sex serving as melodrama, “Aviva” is an offering that deserves the attention of a patient audience open to its experimental nature.

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

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

ON A MAGICAL NIGHT – movie review

ON A MAGICAL NIGHT
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christophe Honoré
Screenwriter: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Chiara Mastoianni, Benjamin Biolay, Vincent Lacoste, Kolia Abiteboul, Camille Cottin, Carole Bouquet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/20
Opens: May 8, 2020

“The French don’t care what they do, actually, so long as they pronounce it properly.” So says Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” and if Higgins were present at the Cannes Film Festival watching “On a Magical Night,” he would be doubly assured. Under the direction of Christophe Honoré, a busy man whose “Les chansons d’amour” deals with a threesome evoking the mysteries and fragilities of love, is in his métier with “On a Magical Night.” When one character says “When should we die: in our 30’s, our 40’s?” we know we are dealing thematically with people who regret the passing years but who had used those periods to accumulate multiple partners. Maria Mortemart (Chiara Mastroianni) and Richard Warrimer (Benjamin Biolay) have been married for twenty-five years, affording Maria a bounty of male lovers, none gay even if the writer-director’s previous picture, “Sorry Angel” finds one Jacques in love with Arthur. Since Richard claims never to have cheated on Maria, he resents her infidelity.

The movie is theatrical, most action taking place in Room 212 (the original title is “Chambre 212”) and across the street in a hotel. Bringing to mind the Beatles’ “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64,” Honoré considers a question that has must have been asked by anyone with a pulse, “Would I have done anything different if I could reconsider my choice for a life’s partner?” The question is not resolved, but Honoré uses magical realism to examine the fantasies of Maria when, after an argument with Richard she moves to a hotel across the street and considers all the men she slept with during her marriage and the two principal women in her life as well.

So this time the cheater is not the man. Maria, a glamorous law professor, looks through the hotel window at Richard who, by now, is kicking up a storm, and spends the night receiving “visits” by Richard’s piano teacher Irène Haffner (Carole Bouquet at 60 years and Camille Cottin at 40), by her dead mother (Marie-Christine Adam), and by a succession of past lovers including one present one, Asdrubal Electorat (Harrison Arevalo). The men include Richard as a young adult (Vincent Lacoste) and as her teen student(Kolia Abiteboul). Stéphane Roger performs as La Volonté, a one-man Greek chorus singing like Charles Aznavour.

Much of the time she ponders her bedding Richard decades ago, which might have the audience wonder whether this technicality means that she is not really committing infidelity. Since this is a French movie, there’s lots of talk, largely of regrets, the veritable platoon of men and women taking up the space of the hotel room but giving Maria the freedom to conduct most of her truth-seeking chats with the piano teacher.

Light and fluffy like a French farce but played on a more somber and less over-the-top performances of Feydeau’s plays, “Chambre 212” might be just the thing we need since our globe went viral. The conclusion, a dance to forget your troubles to the bouncy tunes of Barry Manilow, may have been planned to have us in the audience forget for a while the seriousness of love and sex and life. For those of us curious to soak in trivia, you probably guessed that Chiara Mastroianni is the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni’s and Catherine Deneuve and that the two principals, Mastroianni and Biolay were once romantic partners.

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

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