DEAR DICTATOR – movie review

DEAR DICTATOR

Cinedigm
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse
Screenwriter:  Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse
Cast:  Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Jason Biggs, Seth Green, Fish Myrr, Jackson Beard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/10/18
Opens: March 16, 2018

Whatever happened to satire with political undertones that are as smart as they are ruthless, that portray real characters in extremis but not as cartoons?  Think of “Dr. Strangelove,” the more recent “Thank You for Smoking,” and anything coming out of Monty Python?  With “Dear Dictator” a modern parody playing on figures like Fidel Castro and suburban moms and teens, the genre has sunk to its most unfunny low.  This is dumbed down with the most obvious gags, pure sitcom “entertainment”—with a portrayal of a dentist but with an overall story with no bite, no teeth, nothing to chew on.

Even Tatiana Mills (Odeya Rush), who has the gumption to send letters to a Caribbean dictator about to be ousted, projects herself as not a bimbo but a girl who is so uncoordinated that she falls to the ground twice.  And in a side role Denny (Jackson Beard) shows himself as the usual Hollywood portrayal of a religious nut, a Bible thumper, the kind of role that could make Evangelicals furious, except that he is so unconvincing that even folks in the reddest of states might tease out an uncomfortable laugh.

In the story Titiana has a single mother Darlene (Katie Holmes) is so horny that having her toes sucked by the dentist she works for, Dr. Charles Seaver (Seth Green) drives her into a sexual frenzy.  The high school girls gets the idea for a history project from her teacher Mr. Spines (Jason Biggs), fulfilling the assignment of writing a “letter to a person you admire.”  Strangely, she admires a Caribbean communist dictator, General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine), who writes her back, even sending her a revolutionary flag. When he is overthrown, he somehow winds up hiding in the large suburban home of the person heretofore just a pen pal.  He shaves his beard, drops his revolutionary uniform, and puts on a ridiculous wig and mustache, eluding Titiana’s mother for a while, playing miniature golf with the young woman, and learning about the Internet.

That’s Michael Caine, taking a big slide down from his magnetic roles such as Harry Palmer in the 1965 “The Ipcress File,” a performance which makes that movie stand as a masterwork of espionage fiction.  Now he’s a bumbler who, in this story, tries to redeem himself by complimenting Tatiana and Darlene, giving them feminist-style messages that they’re much better people than they think they are and telling them to “go for it.”

The picture was first introduced with the title “Coup d’état,” which could have been called “Coup d’éTatiana,” but no name could have given this mess of physical comedy, dumbed-down script, been-there- done-that high-school parody worth a view.

Unrated.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

THE NEIGHBOR – movie reveiw

THE NEIGHBOR

Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Aaron Harvey
Screenwriter: Richard Byard, Aaron Harvey
Cast: William Fichtner, Jessica McNamee, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michael Rosenbaum, Colin Woodell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/30/18
Opens: January 26, 2018

The Neighbor Trailer

Since Aeschylus popularized the Greek myth of King Agamemnon, who was killed by his wife Clytemnestra for parading a concubine in their home, men have been warned. Don’t fool around with other women if you’re married. Nothing good will come of a sexual adventure; not in the long run at least, as we learn once again from Aaron Harvey’s movie “The Neighbor.” Harvey, whose “Catch .44” finds a trio tasked with capturing a drug shipment for their own crime boss, takes on a more domestic theme with this, his sophomore full-length feature.

You soon get the impression that this “Neighbor” joins the ranks of satires of suburbia, whether the recent “Suburbicon” or the classic “Stepford Wives.” We should note that the violence between neighbors of this community would probably not occur in apartment houses, where we keep our doors locked and would never admit people who, with good intentions, mean us harm. The film succeeds well enough as both a satire and a thriller, thanks in large part to its acting ensemble led by the always reliable William Fichtner—veteran of video games, shorts, and especially of the remarkable 2004 picture “Crash,” which interweaves stories of race and attempts at redemption in L.A.

We are asked to believe, however, that Fichtner at the age of 62 could attract the sensual attentions of a new neighbor, played by Jessica McNamee, who in real life is 31 and who, as we hear from the older man that she could easily be his daughter. This is a classic male fantasy. “The Neighbor” takes place in a bright, middle-class area where houses are so close together that you’d better watch how loud you play your music and how you might want to avoid rafter-shaking arguments.

Mike (William Fichtner) watches the arrival of two newcomers to the house next door, Jenna (Jesccia McNamee) and Scott (Michael Rosenbaum), from different generations and with different personalities. Mike, who works from home as a technical writer (a good career for introverts), watches as loudmouth Scott (a Corvette salesman, also a good match), has periodic arguments with his wife of four months. In one case at their pool, Scott, enraged by his wife over who-knows-what, kicks the chair, the whole brouhaha witnessed by Mike. So far Mike is wary but non-interventional. When ultimately Mike believes that Jenna—whom he has regularly offered to help with moving furniture and with gardening—is in danger, he takes action personally rather than call the police. Meanwhile, though Mike has done nothing wrong on a romantic level, he is confronted by his wife Lisa (Jean Louisa Kelly), who in my opinion is cuter than the young Jenna, leading to a mid-life crisis that worries him and his adult son Alex (Colin Woodell).

There’s nothing especially original about Richard Byard and the director’s screenplay, but if you’re a married, middle-aged man with thoughts of tarrying with someone half your age—wait, even if you’re a single man dreaming of the same—let this movie be a warning. In that sense, it’s worth your ten or fifteen bucks, handing you a lesson that you’ll forget at your own risk.

Rated R. 97 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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