SOUTH MOUNTAIN – movie review

Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hilary Brougher
Screenwriter: Hilary Brougher
Cast: Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Violet Rea, Michael Oberholtzer, Macaulee Ruosnak Cassaday
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

South Mountain (2019)

New York State’s Catskill Mountains, where the events of “South Mountain” take place, was once in its glory as a locale for a slew of large hotels catering in part to singles who came up from the city, each to find the man or woman of the single person’s dreams. Since jet planes had been taking college kids and other youths to Europe and beyond—not right now with the coronavirus as our president has banned a considerable amount of travel between us and the continent—the grand hotels like the Concord and Grossingers are gone. Instead the former borscht belt now serves as summer homes largely for middle-aged people who drive up the mountain with their kids, giving us in the movie audience a chance to look away from the masses who used to go there on spring break and delve into the relationship of one family whose marriage is in trouble.

Benefitting the film is the idea that this is one of a growing number of celluloids from female directors, in this case starring the immensely talented Talia Balsam in the role of Lila, who discovers that her husband Edgar, played by Scott Cohen, is leading two lives. When he makes trips away from his family allegedly to meet producers to peddle his scripts, he has a girlfriend in Brooklyn. Every time he says he has to take a phone call from his producers, he is actually talking to his significant other, giving us in the audience a chance to see an actual birth on his I-phone. When Lila discovers all, the marriage may be destined to go south, but in this case there’s a chance for a friendship to remain and for the new baby to be introduced to Lila and to Lila’s daughters. Vacationing with Lila and Edgar is Lila (Andrus Nichols), a good friend going through chemotherapy. Divorce as a finale to a couple’s nuptials? Not so simple.

The entire project might be compared to Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” though that would be trivializing the Swedish giant. Yet “South Mountain” is delightful in its own terms, dealing with scenes leading to a divorce of a middle-aged couple with teen kids, though principally the story takes second billing to the performers. Clearly character trumps plot, not a bad idea considering how terrific Balsam is in the role of a woman who, in one startling scene, tries to poison her husband but realizes the monstrosity of the crime and takes action to reverse the damage.

Hilary Brougher, whose “Innocence” is based on a dark secret threatening a Manhattan prep school and “Stephanie Daley” about a 16-year-old suspected of concealing her pregnancy and murdering her infant, may be committed to movies on women’s issues, works we need a lot more of. This mature, quiet study of a vacationing family with a brief affair between Lila and Jonah (Michael Oberholtzer) , who is a friend of the couple’s daughters and who reads Kant for fun, is thrown in to reveal additional complexity, all wrapped up in a neat package about splits among the 50-somethings.

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

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

FRANKIE – movie review

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ira Sachs
Screenwriter: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear, Jérémie RenierPascal Greggory, Vinette Robinson, Ariyon Bakare, Carloto Cotta Sennia Nenua
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 10/4/19
Opens: October 25, 2019

Frankie Movie Poster

If you seek the answer to the age-old question “What is the meaning of life?” look no further than Ira Sachs’s picture “Frankie.” Sachs, whose “Keep the Lights On” deals with friendship, intimacy, love, addictions, compulsions, highs and lows pretty much covers the answer already. To that add the coming of death and you pretty much have it all. “Frankie” deals with all of the above, is graced by the usual charismatic performance by Isabelle Huppert, and takes place in Sintra, Portugal, one of the world’s most beautiful UNESCO Heritage sites. Too bad some people in a potential audience will continue to search for life’s meaning, turned off by the way Sachs unfolds the plot; namely, through talk. More conversation than you’d find in a French movie, just about as much as a picture done by Eric Rohmer, who has refused to be concerned with plot but deals only with people’s thoughts and feelings. “Frankie,” in like manner, introduces us to the woman’s extended family, called together to meet at Sintra when Frankie seeks a final closure with fewer than six months to live.

At some point in the film you get the relationships down almost pat. Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) was married first to Michel (Pascal Greggory) who learned that he was gay, leading her to hitch up with Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson). She is an actress on her final vacation, eager to marry off her perpetually single son from a previous marriage Paul (Jérémie) to her movie hairdresser Irene (Marisa Tomei). He is uninterested, though Irene is pursued by budding film director Gary (Greg Kinnear), who lives in New York’s Upper West Side but now wants to “settle down” in a country home with Irene—who is coy, leading him on but no willing to be penned up in an isolated area. Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), Jimmy’s daughter from a previous marriage, is married to Ian (Ariyon Bakare) but that entente looks frayed and about to topple. With one woman about to die, a marriage ready to fall apart, an older man virtually in tears contemplating his wife’s imminent death, this is a sad situation, taking place ironically in such a splendid location.

The only cheerful family member, teen Maya (Sennia Nanua), spends the day with a local boy she meets on the tram going from Sintra to the beach, has little idea what life has to offer, though one might infer from the adults around her that, giving her time, she’ll see how much melodrama and tragedy await. Even the Portuguese guide Tiago (Carloto Cotta) is involved with a strange marital situation, spouting the usual tourist palaver about which building comes from the 16th century and which fountain will cure all illness.

One-on-one exchanges give way at midpoint once to a vivacious birthday party thrown by locals for Frankie, who is recognized by the community from her pictures on magazine covers. The movie’s most tender scene finds Frankie and her second husband Jimmy hugging in bed, Jimmy appearing more concerned by thoughts of his wife’s approaching death than is she.

Call this Eric Rohmer-light, “Frankie,” which takes place in a single day in a single location, falls short of embracing the Classical Unities by its involving subplots. Though hardly needed, Schubert is introduced on the piano, punctuating the loveliness and the fragility of life.

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

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

THE LEISURE SEEKER – movie review


    Sony Pictures Classics
    Director:  Paolo Virzi
    Screenwriter:  Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesto Piccolo, Paolo Virzi based on Michael Zadoorian’s book
    Cast:  Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/24/17
    Opens: January 18, 2018
    The Leisure Seeker
    Maurice Chevalier once said “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”  I have experience with the former but not the latter, so I can’t say he’s right.  But as the self-help books on happiness say, people report more delight in their seventies than they felt in their twenties.  You can’t go too wrong for opting for youth.  So should the two principals in “The Leisure Seeker,” Paolo Virzi’s first English language feature, a movie that would not have been so heart-tugging with any other pair of actors.  The action right down to the conclusion may be predictable, but how can anyone miss anything that features Helen Mirren?

    Virzi is fortunate in pairing Mirren with Donald Sutherland, whose chemistry at the supposed age of eighty plus is palpable.  These two, Mirren as Ella Spencer and Sutherland as John Spencer, are runaways.  Paolo Virzi is in his métier, as the director’s “Like Crazy” hones in on two women in a Tuscany facility for emotionally disturbed who run away together.

    Disregarding the regularly telephoned warnings of their two adult children, Will (Christian McKay) and Jane (Janel Moloney, begging them to drive their 1975 Winnebago RV home where they can continue to care for them, the loving couple proceed from their Massachusetts digs to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida.  As the road movie continues we note that John, a retired college professor, has dementia, sometimes forgetting his wife’s name but never his love for her.  For her part Ella is hiding her own affliction, an illness for which she has refused treatment but medicates herself with whiskey, pills and a liquid solution to help her sleep.

    We wonder how John is able to drive at all, and in fact he does almost get a ticket for weaving on the scenic and surprisingly empty Route 1 southbound. Aside from their protestations of love, each accuses the other of straying from the marriage, now fifty years old, in a plot device that is a hoary as it is insipid.  They stop at a retirement community facility seeking John’s alleged cheating some forty years ago, as John insists on finding the man for whom she transgressed.  They disturb one Dan Coleman (the late Dick Gregory), now in a wheelchair and ordering them out of his room.

    When they stop at a coffee shop, John insists on quoting from Melville, Hemingway and James Joyce, and gets quite a surprise to find a waitress quite familiar with John’s literary hero.  One might be aghast that John, still remembering the quotes he delivered in lectures to his college classes, now insists on repeating “I want a burger.”We wonder who is in worse shape and who will die first: John with his dementia or Ella with her serious illness. Feel free to take bets because the resolution is not far from coming.

    Surprisingly this is arthouse fare given its distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, yet it comes off as both a sitcom that fails to elicit audience laughs, and a drama that mimics so many other films.  The pleasure of watching two first-class performers in action does, however, succeed in giving this movie your attention, though the surprise element is difficult to find, making the movie too good to be considered a misstep yet not good enough to transcend its form.

    Rated R.  112 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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