DOGMAN – movie review

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matteo Garrone
Screenwriter: Ugo Chiti, Maurizio Raucci, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
Cast: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Alida Baldari Calabria, Nunzia Schiano, Adamo Dionisi
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 4/2/19
Opens: April 12, 2019

Dogman Movie Poster

“Dogman” is the movie that won the “Palm Dog Best Canine Cast” during the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2018. If that’s not a reason to run to the theater I don’t know what is. Maybe I do: the picture also gave Marcello Fonte the Best Actor award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this year and the aforementioned Cannes Festival as well. If you’re still not convinced, consider whether you’d like the films made by Matteo Garrone. The director’s well-named “Gomorrah” a few years back deals with the Napolitano mafia, is full of violence (obviously), and has the additional scare for audiences when the title “Gomorrah” shows up on covering the entire screen.

You’re still with me? You have no problem with extreme violence? And maybe you like dogs enough to watch canines of all sizes getting groomed? But you’re queasy when one chihuahua is tossed into a freezer praying to be rescued and defrosted, especially if his savior could be the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Actor? You’re set for an interesting time at the movies.

The tale focuses primarily on Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a milquetoast, an easily bullied fellow, who makes a living grooming dogs in a godforsaken shop called Dogman in a sh*thole of a town outside Naples. He has a daughter of about nine years, Alida (Alida Baldari Calabria), who is the most mature character in the movie, regularly promised by her dad to take her on a trip to the Red Sea but settling for scuba-diving in a nearby watering hole. He wants to fulfill this dream and is lured into selling cocaine to make the needed money, and he is also more or less forced into more criminal activity by the town bully, ex-boxer Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a bruiser of a guy that some in the community would like to kill. This Simoncino is such a brute—I hesitate to use the term “animal” unless you compare him to the pit bull that opens the movie ready to tear into Marcello’s throat—that in one scene he virtually kills his mother, (Nunzia Schiano) with an outrageous bear hug. Still, she deserves the treatment for tossing her dear boy’s cocaine into the air (though Marcello is forced to sweep it up).

When Simone insists that wimpy Marcello take part in robbing Marcello’s friend Franco (Adamo Dionisi) who runs a gold-buying service next door to Dogman, the stage is set for a disaster that will bring Marcello down and lead to an act of vengeance that has unintentional consequences.

Nicolaj Brüel’s lenses capture the action in Caserta, Campania, Lazio and Rome, though the principal location probably had its last batch of tourists during the time of the Caesars. There is an indication that metaphoric use is made of the town since it’s almost inconceivable that anyone in the culture-rich nation of Italy would live there—and maybe (metaphor alert) nobody does. “Dogman” was Italy’s Oscar candidate for movies opening in 2018, though the rich assortment of imports made it impossible for the pic to get a nomination. Subtitles are clear, as the only words of English are spoken to a dog as in “sit” and “stay,” though those are about the last words you’d use in the presence of Simone.

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

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

THE FIRST PURGE – movie review


Universal Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Gerard McMurray
Screenwriter:  James DeMonaco
Cast:  Marisa Tomei, Lex Scott Davis, Luna Lauren Velez, Melonie Diaz, Y’lan Noel, Mo McRae, Steve Harris
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 7/2/18
Opens: July 4, 2018
In his sophomore feature as director, Gerard McMurray gives us “The First Purge,” a better title being “The Shooting Gallery.”  Let’s hope this “First Purge” is the last.  The real first “Purge” took place in 2013 in the more interesting movie directed by James DeMonaco, since that one at least had a plot—involving a wealthy family held hostage for sheltering the target of a murderous syndicate.  This time, using James DeMonaco’s script, the action blockbuster features dialogue that utilizes half the country’s clichés with not a single syllable of originality, of nuance, even of substance.

Here’s what passes for talk followed by a potential audience response:

“I’ve see a lot of stupid shit.”

Reaction:  We have too.

“It’s been a long night.”

Reaction:  Yes it has.

“What’s going on?  I’m so confused.

Reaction:  You fill in the blanks.

Though Marisa Tomei is listed on some programs as the lead, she is wasted here, or perhaps after watching what’s going on, she became wasted.

Just like in 2013 when the government declared a 12-hour period once a year to allow people to let off steam in any way they want, the administration is led by a new political party called New Founding Fathers or NFFA.  To allow people now to let loose, instead of declaring a nationwide hunting season for the 12 hour period, all is confined to Staten Island, New York, where the administration’s real goal is to decimate the mostly African-American population living in low income housing.

To coax the folks in the projects to hang around in Staten Island rather than flee to other boroughs, NFFA President Bracken (Ian Blackman) through his chief of staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) offers $5,000 to anyone remaining, implanting in each volunteer a tracking device which is supposed to act as check to make sure the people are participating, but is actually used for a government militia to wipe them out.  Soon men in KKK masks, gas masks, and other wartime attire are smashing down doors in the projects, gunning down residents right and left, while the men and women under the leadership of Dimitri (Y’lan Noel), a drug dealer, push back with knives, machine guns, fists and strangulations.  After realizing what the government really has in mind, Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei), aka “The Architect,” remarks “What have I done!” to the amused movie audience making that line the principal example of unintended humor.

Unless you like to see flame throwers barbecuing people, knives drawing heaps of blood, guns used on both sides, and the usual hand-to-hand combat of the sort that you never know what’s going on because of rapid editing, you will conclude that this “Purge” has no redeeming features.

Rated R.  99 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

MOM AND DAD- movie review


Momentum Pictures
Director:  Brian Taylor
Screenwriter:  Brian Taylor
Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert T. Cunningham
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: January 19, 2018
Mom and Dad Poster #1
Home is not only where the heart is, but the refuge from the wilds and anonymity of the outside world, a place where everybody knows your name and loves you.  Except when they do not.  “Mom & Dad,” a horror pic that will be compared unfavorably even to the other movies opening during the dreaded movie month of January, is more horrendous than horror.  The film, which spends all too much time exhibiting parents running amuck with the usual rapid editing that makes the theater audience wonder what’s really happening, is twice as long as it should be despite its brief eighty-three minutes’ running time.  It should cut about eighty-three minutes from the final release.

Brian Taylor, who wrote and directs, is known for “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” in which a fellow in Eastern Europe tries to stop the devil, who is trying to take human form.  The macabre, then, is in Taylor’s DNA, but this time around his movie fails on every level.  It’s lacking narrative continuity, with editing that makes a joke out of the violence, with Nicolas Cage’s ranting and raving at a volume that could wake the dead (and indeed it seems to have done so with one of the young men he attacks); and with sudden flashbacks that pop out at inconvenient moments to give the audience a feel for what life was like for these characters in better times.

The Ryan family, which consists of Brent (Nicolas age), his wife Kendall (Selma Blair), their daughter Carly (Anne Winters), and Carly’s kid brother Joshua (Zachary Arthur), live in a sterile suburb with what Pete Seeger would call ticky-tacky housing.  Something happens to people throughout the town, though one could hardly call the violent breakout the fault of suburbia since a human tsunami breaks out throughout the land.  Parents, people who almost surely have resentments against their kids due to jealousy, and smarting at the mischief that the young ones have caused them, have become intent on killing their spawn.  There is a hint that a TV broadcast with snow on the screen has tripped the mayhem, but whether or not TV is responsible, all the parents of youngsters in high school have gathered at a gate that is locking them out, ready to comic massive homicide.

What is meant to be the source of climactic action finds the Carly and her brother in the basement hiding from their parents, as Kendall and Brent manage to see through their rage enough to decide how to get at the kids with various tools that suburban houses have almost as additional rooms in their homes.  Again the rapid-fire editing makes a jumble of the battle in a movie that lacks scares, a screenplay, and anything beyond the usual generic horror music.  A travesty that somehow managed to find a place at the Toronto International Festival.

Rated R.  83 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – F
Acting – C
Technical – C
Overall – D