WORKING WOMAN – movie review

Zeitgeist Films
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michal Aviad
Screenwriter: Sharon Azulay Eyal, Michal Vinik, Michal Aviad
Cast: Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy, Oshri Cohen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/16/19
Opens: March 27, 2019

Isha Ovedet (2018)

It should not be difficult to discourage men who harass women (or other men) for sex, stalking, wheedling, begging, demanding, and the like. But when the men (assuming 90-95% of the guilty are men) have something over you, things get complicated. We know from recent exposés by the #MeToo movement and journalists in general how easy it must have been for Harvey Weinstein to get what he wanted from women. As the leading producer of films in the U.S., he could make or break careers. This explains why so many women waited for years before getting the courage to testify against him.

But Harvey Weinstein is only one guy. There are local schlemiels who are able to get away with harassment simply because they employ women. It’s not so easy to fight off an employer when you need his recommendation for a new job. This is why dominant males do not always need to use a great deal of force to touch, even rape women who are, so to speak, under them. Nor is sexual harassment found only in the U.S. and Europe, as Michal Aviad points out forcefully enough with “Working Woman,” or “Isha Ovedet” in the original Israeli title. Aviad, in her sophomore dramatic feature (in addition to documentaries she is known for “Invisible,” dealing with two women who discover that their rapists are in common), illustrates the way that Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) is drawn into the sordidi network of her boss, Benny (Menashe Noy). She is such a valuable employee that one may wonder why she needs him more than he needs her.

As a marketer of real estate property, she has gone beyond her boss’ skills. In the case on view here, she is able to sell apartments in the Israeli city of Rishon La Zion using tactics that Benny would not have thought of. Things get hairy when Benny at first asks her to wear her hair long, then tries to kiss her. Like so many other predators, he apologizes “It won’t happen again.” It does, culminating in a situation in which Benny tries to rape her in a Paris hotel, though Orna, at first trying to fight him off, gives in—only partly because he outweighs her by a hundred pounds. She is probably thinking that since the new restaurant business started by her husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) may go belly-up, nobody will be around to support her family of five.

That’s the situation, one that must be repeated thousands, maybe millions of time by the male of the species, those who are in controlling situations. And since most business is owned by men, these predators must be having a field day, using their dominance to get what they want.

With a stunning principal performance by Liron Ben Shlush and with a direction by feminist Michal Aviad that refuses to degenerate into noisy melodrama, “Working Woman” is able to get the message across in an entertaining format with a direct, narrative style—no animation, flashbacks and the like. The film is in Hebrew and some French with English subtitles.

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

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

ROCKING THE COUCH – movie review

Avail Films
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Minh Collins
Screenwriter: Minh Collins
Cast: Lauren Anastasi-Peter, Ikon Barenbolm, Alana Crow, et al
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/8/19
Opens: March 15, 2019

Kim Johnston Ulrich, Greg Cope White, Andrea Evans, Carrie Mitchum, Tonja Walker, Minh Collins, Sadie Katz, Josephine Gorchoff, Alana Crow, Tiffani Fest, Jennifer Durst, Jerry Sommer, Pritesh Shah, Nick Patriarca, Lauren Anastasi-Peter, Ikon Barenbolm, Don D. Meredith, Susan K. Hayn, Peter Scalisi, and Stephen G. Rodriguez in Rocking the Couch (2018)

For a long time, men have gotten away with sexual harassment and, what’s worse, with sexual battery and assault. As attorney Stephen Rodriguez points out in Minh Collins’ “Rocking the Coach,” women have been afraid of losing their careers or chances to make it big in Hollywood. What’s more they’ve been justifiably afraid of being humiliated of being told that they brought on the harassment by the way they dress and act. Even unions like Screen Actors Guild have tried to hush up accusations lest its own prestige be affected. “Rocking the Couch” deals exclusively with the casting of actresses for movies and TV spots. Unlike the way that Michael Moore would direct a documentary, Collins concentrates on talking heads but enlivens the conversation with animation, re-creations, and pictures. The one distracting and unnecessary element he uses is music in the soundtrack, which does nothing to accent the proceedings.

Collins begins with accusations against Fatty Arbuckle and segues into Natalie Wood, the latter among those who were told that spilling the beans would hurt their careers. The spokespersons, who come forward with accusations and are allowed to speak their minds without interviewers’ questions, are generally women who in middle age still look great but were stunning while in their twenties. Among the more fascinating stores is one in which a handsome producer set up a premise—a woman is trying to get back with her former boyfriend—then tells the actress to improvise and strip until both are naked. When she charges the man with having pushed his penis against her, his defense lawyer notes that the angle of his penis is such that it would not be possible for a woman to feel it. Whether the judge or jury had a laugh is not disclosed.

In another case a former policewoman checks out a guy who has had accusations against him. She wears a wire, with other members of the force waiting outside to jump in if she utters a code word. She has to push the accused off the bed forcefully but did not invoke the code word.

There is still one problem. Many aspiring actresses would be happy to give their sexual services in return for parts in commercials and movies. This break in the potential unity of women to stand up against their assailants operates to make it difficult for others to resist, as they see that the casting directors and producers could do just fine without them.

Aside from the trio of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey, the most high-profile alleged violators and whose stories encouraged the #MeToo movement, the most damaging punishment cited in this film is that of a Burbank talent agent to five years and four months of prison, though the probation officer recommended probation to a fellow with an otherwise clean record. When Wallace Kaye, age 52, was put on trial for felony sexual battery, his victims testified that they came to Kaye seeking acting or modeling jobs and were assaulted while improvising dramatic scenes with him. Said one of his victims, “I feel like a big load has been lifted and that I can go on with my life. I’m glad he’s going to prison.”

In this film, men are not given spots to challenge their accusers nor do we see men introduced to us in the audience to give their sides of the story. Yet even without them, the evidence is compelling, prompting the police to urge women who are raped to go immediately to a hospital for a rape kit, not to shower away the evidence of molestation.

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

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

SUBMISSION – movie reveiw


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Richard Levin
Screenwriter: Richard Levin based on Francine Prose’s novel “Blue Angel
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Kyra Sedgwick, Addison Timlin, Janeane Garofalo, Peter Gallagher, Ritchie Coster, Jessica Hecht
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 1/22/18
Opens: March 2, 2018 in NY.

Submission Movie Poster

Time’s up! This is the call of women who are infuriated about sexual harassment by powerful men. They’re not going to take it any longer. Many men are implicated, some having to leave their positions, the most unfortunate case being the resignation of Senator Al Franken for a few hi-jinx he engaged in before becoming a senator and during the time he was writing copy for Saturday Night Live.

Since accusations are often made years after the alleged sordid events, we should expect some to question the veracity of the charges—even if only five percent of the accusations are either false or not as defamatory as they are made to seem. In fact what occurs in Richard Levin’s movie “Submission” is enough to make progressive people turn into conservatives–unless they have also moved politically rightward after seeing David Mamet’s play “Oleanna.” In that sharply written drama, a college student accuses her professor of making sexual remarks several times in class, though it later comes out that a woman’s group on campus had put her up to the accusations. He loses his chance for tenure with a nice raise. His life unravels.

Along comes “Submission,” in which Angela (Addison Timlin) a crafty, manipulative student taking a writing class in a small liberal arts college with Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci), shows enough promise to be taken seriously by the teacher. Ted, married to Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick), a school nurse, is disgusted with the smug colleagues and having to suffer through pretentious dinners and parties at what is best a second-tier, albeit beautifully situated campus. Frustrated by writer’s block after having published one novel, he becomes enthusiastic about the one student in the small seminar who shows promise. He meets with her frequently in his office, and in a day that proves unfortunate, he agrees to come to her room to set up her computer after she requests his aid. He is about to be seduced, abandoned, and charged with sexual harassment.

Agreed: Ted is acting mighty naïve, especially since he has a loving marriage with the beautiful Sherrie. Alone in a room with a student who own erotic writings prove that he she has experience in such matters, he succumbs, and she, believing that he did not show her developing novel to his publisher (Peter Gallagher) as he promised (she’s wrong), asks the administration under the dean (Ritchie Coster) to take disciplinary action.

In other words what transpires here is quite reminiscent of similar scenes in “Oleanna,” though that writer, David Mamet, is known to oppose the use of legal solutions to problems that can be better sorted out informally.

Stanley Tucci looks amazingly good with the large hairpiece which he appears able to use when he climbs into the shower with his wife Sherrie. With the fashionable two-day facial hair (a fashion I can’t understand) and a pair of serious glasses, he looks like the academic and novelist that he is playing. His chemistry with Sedgwick is palpable, and his growing attraction to the student believable. Tucci and Timlin make this movie engrossing, and the lovely Kyra Sedgwick adds greatly to its atmosphere.

I’m angry at the way women can manipulate men. I’m angry at the way men manipulate women. Admittedly, though, the way our society is set up, men appear to have the advantages of power to manipulate the fair sex. “Submission” is based on Francine Prose’s novel some 17 years ago (prophetic, it seems), called “Blue Angel,” the title inspired by Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 classic “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich as a cabaret performer who ruins the reputation and the life of a naïve teacher.

Unrated. 107 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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