ATOMIC COVER-UP – movie review

ATOMIC COVER-UP
Exposed Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Greg Mitchell
Cast: Greg Mitchell, Daniel McGovern, Herbert Sussan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: March 20, 2021 through March 30, 2021 at Cinequest in San Jose, California and streaming.

Atomic Cover-up (2021) - IMDb

Bumper stickers on the backs of cars provide sound bites of their drivers’ political views. You may think you can avoid getting parking tickets from traffic cops with the sticker, “Support your local police.” If you do not like U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, you sport the saying, “We’re creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.” Shortly after World War 2 (as I recall) and even in recent years, there is the bumper sticker “No Pearl Harbor, then no Hiroshima,” which some people today would assume is the motto of fellows on the political right. However, left-leaning folks today would find a major flaw in that last motto: the bombing of Pearl Harbor killed mostly sailors, military people, a total of some 2500. The American bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed over 200,000, at least 80% civilians; that includes old men, women and children. In fact the Hiroshima bombing was directed toward the center of the city and not to the military base.

Nowadays we have so many issues to think about that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings fade into obscurity. But thanks to the people who filmed “Atomic Cover-Up,” which includes grainy black-and-white celluloid taken by Japanese journalists shortly after the bombing in addition to color shots by the U.S., we get to see not only the devastation to buildings (just a few remain almost intact) but more poignantly to the people who fell victims to the heat and radiation. One poor guy lying in his stomach had a back as raw as a skinless-and-boneless salmon. Red from neck to waist. He was in agony and begged to be put out of his misery, but the doctors and nurses who heroically treated victims of the bombs were determined to treat him. He survived and is now married with kids.

Despite the intrusive music in the soundtrack, there is much praise due to the showing of this film at the Cinequest Festival in California’s San Jose, and further, that the film was declared top secret by the U.S. for decades gives it the resonance of a forbidden fruit. Shots taken immediately post-war portray and apocalyptic vision of a Hiroshima virtually leveled, and remember that this hear 1945 bomb is a pup compared to what nine countries possess today. As one commentator notes, the next nuclear war will be “the end of everything.”

The irony of it all is that a military man, Dwight D. Eisenhower, called the bombing unnecessary as Japan was already defeated, thereby attacking arguments by some that the atomic bomb saved tens of thousands of American lives, soldiers who would have to stage a land invasion of the Japanese archipelago in order to end the war.

After being declassified the film aired in 1970 on PBS and is available now as a streaming. Moreover film-maker Greg Mitchell had written a book on the history of the footage, now available on Amazon, though the small number of reviews there indicate that not that many prospective readers consider it a hot political issue today. Its 52 minutes’ length and its selection of only a small amount of devastating human suffering makes John Hersey’s classic “Hiroshima” the more heartbreaking.

52 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

THE GOOD TRAITOR – movie review

THE GOOD TRAITOR (Vores mand i Amerika)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christina Rosendahl
Writers: Kristian Bang Foss, Danja Gry Jensen, Christina Rosendahl
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Burn Gorman, Ross McCall, Zoë Tapper, Denise Gough, Pixie Davies, Henry Goodman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Nicholas Blane
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/25/21
Opens: March 26, 2021

Poster for The Good Traitor

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, capital city of a country that heroically ferried its Jewish population of 7200 to safety in neutral Sweden, thereby saving their lives from Nazi onslaught. Denmark, which is now among the most progressive countries in the world embracing what may be called Medicare for All, generous parental leave, long time off in the summer, has a problem in its twentieth century history. There was, I fear, something rotten in the state of Denmark, because when Hitler invaded the small country, the Danish government offered virtually no resistance, negotiating with the Hun almost immediately. The cowardly action gained more opprobrium when its king and prime minister fired its ambassador to the U.S., an action resisted by the person holding that office, which called its outpost in Washington the official government of Denmark in exile.

“The Good Traitor” is a biopic, well not exactly since it is “inspired” by the tale of Henrik Louis Hans von Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), focuses almost equally on domestic melodrama as on political gamesmanship. The title character is considered a hero if you look backward from the present year but considered by the Danish government during World War II a traitor. Ordinarily a fellow who may represent only a small country but whose bravery catapults him to modern heroism would be too busy giving the middle finger to King Christian X to have time for a 51-year-old’s hanky-panky. But Kauffmann, married to Charlotte MacDougall (Denise Gough), is in love with Charlotte’s sister Zilla Sears (Zoë Tapper). The affair had been going on for years, leading to a melodramatic confrontation when Charlotte discovers the two kissing in the ample grounds of the Danish embassy in Washington.

Charlotte, however, has an important role to play, being an American, the daughter of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral William Dugald MacDougall, giving her a special “in” with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Henry Goodman)– played with laid-back, aw-shucks behavior. While the war in Europe is raging, Henrik uses Charlotte’s influence with POTUS to help push a reluctant America into the war, noting that Hitler is not going to stop his conquests at the water’s edge. He wins the gold. Literally. He names himself the legal government rep of Denmark when he is merely its fired ambassador, which allows him to unlock the gold bars in New York’s Federal Reserve Bank to finance liberation activities in at least ten other Danish embassies including those in Iran and Egypt. He also has the chutzpah to sign away part of Denmark’s colony of Greenland to the U.S. for air force bases in perpetuity. It’s no wonder that the cowardly government in Copenhagen and a surprising number of pro-Nazi Danes consider Kauffmann an enemy of the state. History now judges the man a good traitor.

The film includes a meeting of FDR and Churchill (the latter looking more bloated than our previous U.S. president) in the presence of the Danish ambassador, who simply acts as though his firing never took place It reaches toward soap opera whenever Kauffmann, who has juice with the President for Pete’s sake, cannot get his wife to excuse his peccadilloes with her own sister. In defense of his extra-curricular recreation with Zilla, he reminds his wife that he loves Zilla’s… eyes. Who could resist? Who is so hardhearted not to excuse him, for the flesh is weak?

The movie makes no attempt to build up to a surprise conclusion that could be copied in a future horror movie by Dario Argento or Wes Craven or Eli Roth, giving us much of the final scene in the opening moments. This is a respectful projection of the crucial war years involving Kauffmann, and old-fashioned biopic complete with the beautiful ballads of the thirties and forties in America on the soundtrack. Jo Stafford’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” would have been most appropriate. Danish-born Christine Rosendahl, whose “The Idealist” deals with a nuclear disaster during the Cold War, is in the director’s seat.

The film is in English and in Danish with English subtitles.

115 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SIX HOURS TO MIDNIGHT – movie review

SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andy Goddard
Writer: Andy Goddard, Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones
Cast: Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, Carla Juri, Kevin Eldon, David Schofield
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/8/21
Opens: March 26, 2021

Poster

Just when you think you’ve seen movies on every political aspect of Europe on the brink of World War 2, along comes an original film of international intrigue, a spy story with the usual basket of twists, leading up to a series of exciting chase scenes for which director Andy Goddard prepared us for quite well. Goddard, who has an impressive résumé of made-for-TV movies and TV episodes (including many for the great “Downton Abbey”), now tackles his sophomore full-length feature. That “Six Minutes of Midnight” is based on the true story of incidents surrounding Augusta-Victorian college, a finishing school for girls on England’s south coast, might make us wonder just how many original cusp-of-war stories must be available for writers and filmmakers.

You can tell that this is a finishing school rather than a real college as you watch the girls walking about, each with a book on her head, casting fierce glances at the one pupil whose book drops noisily to the floor. There’s an even better example. When Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard), who had been hired by headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judy Dench) after the suspicious death of his predecessor, Mr. Wheatley (Nigel Lindsay, playing a flawless death body washed up on the beach), asks what book the girls had been reading, they reply “no book.” They insist that Wheatley told them stories. To conform to the culture of the school, Miller does likewise and is well liked by the young people and by the headmistress as well.

This is no “Room 222,” however. Miller is a British agent, the girls are German, sent via the Anglo-German Fellowship to represent the best of Nazi youth. As September 1, 1939 approaches, which will signal the opening of World War 2 in Europe, Hitler’s plan is to evacuate the girls suddenly. At the same time Whitehall wants to hold them hostage—though the UK’s motives are not entirely clear.

The major segment of the film takes place within the school. We see that headmistress Rocholl considers her charges to be “her girls” despite their nationality, and is highly motivated to do the best job in teaching them notwithstanding their being daughters of members of the Nazi high command. By contrast Ilse Keller (Carla Juri), a young, pretty teacher, is a dedicated Nazi who makes sure that the girls listen to propaganda on the radio and is soon to become more than a mere, quiet cog in the German war machine. In fact Ilse’s murderous action outside the school will lead to the dramatic chase scenes, the arrest of Thomas Miller who is now considered by authorities to be a British traitor, and a series of twists that turn the movie into a real thriller.

Judi Dench can do no wrong and is ideally suited to be the dedicated head of the school, a woman who would likely protect her girls even as war with Germany begins. But the picture belongs to Eddie Izzard, known to British audiences as a stand-up comedian. He convinces us of his ability to play a teacher who must conform to the culture of a finishing school and yet act as a prized spy for Britain, infiltrating the soon-to-be-defunct Anglo-German Fellowship.

102 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

BEANPOLE – movie review

BEANPOLE (Dylda)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writer: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksadr Terekhov, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book “The Unwomanly Face of War”
Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/27/20
Opens: January 29, 2020 in theaters. May 5, 2020 streaming

Beanpole

War is hell and Kantemir Balagov has a unique way of making that point. Balagov, whose “Closeness” (Tesnota) hones in a small, squalid town in which a Jewish couple are kidnapped with ransom demanded, paints on a larger canvas with “Beanpole.” Artem Emilianov’s lenses bring us up close to a hospital that is treating war injuries, where notably Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev) has apparently been paralyzed and begs for death, but he is most interested in the ways that two women are adapting to a war that killed some twenty million Soviet citizens, or one out of every ten residents.

The action takes place in Leningrad, the movie obviously affording money and artistry in showing the destruction of Russia’s second largest city, here complete with cars from the 1940s and a tram filled to the roof with people. The title character, hospital worker Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) have been emotionally injured by the war, relying on each other to find solace. Beanpole has been taking care of Masha’s child Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), who joins in the hospital entertainment playing charades. To further sink in the horror of war, Pashka is asked to play a dog, getting the reply “How would he know how to play a dog when all of them have been eaten?” One day, while the child is playing with Beanpole, he is accidentally suffocated. When Masha gets the bad news, she announces that her friend “owes her,” and since Masha is infertile due to removal of some organs, she demands that Beanpole become pregnant, the newborn to be handed over to Masha.

Beanpole is obviously afflicted with PTSD—she freezes like a statue which can easily be toppled over. In fact the director not only punctuates Beanpole’s traumatic acting act but features a great many shots that last longer than anything you might see in a Hollywood movie. Dialogue, then, is only one aspect of the story: glacially-paced shots of people simply staring at one another makes this a film for an audience that is both patient and responsive to what happens to people in a war.

In a scene that could be called the film’s one burst of humor, Sasha (Igor Shirocov), who could be used to act in a biopic about Putin given his resemblance to the Russian president as a youth, is behind the wheel of his car, but is pulled over the cushions into the back seat for a quickie with Masha. Later Sasha, whose family’s residence recalls Orwell’s “Animal Farm” which holds that “some people are more equal than others, is to introduce Masha as his girlfriend, soon to be his wife. The conversation between Masha and her potential mother-in-law is perhaps the strangest but most entertaining revelation of the film.

Strong performances from both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina anchor the film amid the impressive production design, making this feature Russia’s Oscar entry for the 92nd Academy Awards. As best friends the two women look like the odd couple, as Miroshnichenko, who resembles Tilda Swinton, is just under six feet tall while Perelygina looks barely over five. Both are first-time performers who should have no problem getting a great many more parts.

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

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

 

THE KEEPER – movie review

THE KEEPER (Trautmann)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
Writer: Robert Marciniak, Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Nicholas J. Schofield
Cast: David Kross, Freya Mavor, John Henshaw, Harry Melling, Michael Socha, Dave Johns
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/26/20
Opens: October 2, 2020

The Keeper (Trautmann)

 

Do you think that it’s possible or even praiseworthy to forgive and forget a people for atrocities? Forgiving is difficult. Forgetting is impossible, as it should be. The most impressive sight in Berlin today is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or, in German Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas. An entire city block is covered with 2,711 slabs of concrete as a memorial to the Jewish dead that will hopefully last for centuries. Though Turkey refuses to admit to the genocide of Armenians, Germany’s governments have stepped forward to make sure that their own people, even men and women who had nothing to do with the Holocaust or World War II, never forget. Nor should the world.

In the biopic, “The Keeper“ (Trautmann in the original German title), the Bavaria-born director Marcus H. Rosenmüller, whose Beste Zeit is a frothy look at two country girls seeking love from boyfriends and more freedom from parents, takes on a more serious project. Throughout the two-hour biopic, I think that what Rosenmüller and his co-writers Robert Marciniak and Nicholas J. Schofield, want us to keep in mind is this question: Can we/should we forgive the Germans for starting the most catastrophic war the world has known resulting in deaths in the tens of millions and destruction of a good part of Europe? The ethical question is not really answered, though the film glorifies one man, Bert Trautmann (David Kross), who through his good looks, his charming personality, and most of us his incredible talent as a goalie for the Manchester City football (soccer) team encouraged the Brits to feel warmer toward their enemy.

The film is a good, solid, old-fashioned tale with a tasteful sample of archival films of actual soccer games that appear to be won thanks to Trautmann’s athletic ability. But how did a guy who was not only a soldier but a Nazi gain the respect, admiration, and even the love of British people so quickly after the horrors of war? Rosenmüller takes the story step by step in straight time choosing to show the forest if not the trees. What is not described? One is that Trautmann had a daughter by a previous relationship before he married Margaret (Freya Mavor); another is that the marriage ended in divorce, that Trautmann had three wives, and that he died in Spain at the age of eighty-nine. Here is the time line from the film…

Trautmann is in a British prisoner of war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire, in 1944 toward the end of the war, a place that despite the barking leadership of Sergeant Smythe (Harry Melling) looks more like Stalag 17 than Terezenstadt. The prisoners play football when they are not shoveling shit or doing whatever busywork is required by the camp. Jack Friar (John Henshaw), the manager of a local football team, notes that Trautmann is superb as a goalie, catching everything aimed at the net he guards. He convinces the camp command to let him play for his team, promising to return him daily after each game. Jack’s daughter Margaret, who Trautmann is ordered to help in a general store, is both repelled and fascinated by the German, the disgust taking root when she discovers that Trautmann’s claim that he had no choice other than to serve as a soldier is splintered. She learns that he not only volunteered for the army but had won the Iron Cross.

During the years 1949-1964 Trautmann served as goalie, at first shunned by the team, then razzed by the fans who shout Kraut go home, all of which may make you think of how Jackie Robinson, the first Black man in the majors, was shunned by his fellow Dodgers, the National League threatened with a strike by players with the St. Cardinals. Fans in the stadiuims shouted Go back to the cotton fields.

Because of the old-fashioned nature of the film, dividing time among the prisoner-of-war camp, the football field, and the romantic relationship with Margaret, you may get the impression that this is a Hallmark Hall of Fame type of sentimental piece. You would be partly right. Still, the sincere acting of the players, who look as though they came right out of the forties, jitterbugging to the sound of the Big Bands. There is an able contrast between sombre scenes (the Trautmanns‘ child is killed by a car) and the lighter ones led mostly by John Henshaw’s portrayal of Jack Friar, a tough hombre with a heart of gold. All makes this a movie that’s relevant particularly in light of the protests taking place here in Portland, Louisville, and in big cities around the world. If it seems as though Freya Mavor’s character Margaret changes her attitude too quicky from revulsion to acceptance to love, well, you never know how we human beings can surprise one another by our often unpredictable behavior.

The screener that I used for this review came with English subtitles, and though the Manchester speech is clear enough and even David Kross’s fluent English comes across understandably, the studio should be credited for not assuming that all of us Americans can easily understand our neighbors from across the Atlantic.

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

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

 

SUMMERLAND – movie review

SUMMERLAND
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020

Poster

If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.

The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.

At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.

Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.

The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.

“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.

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

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

WAITING FOR ANYA – movie review

WAITING FOR ANYA
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ben Cookson
Screenwriter: Ben Cookson, Michael Morpurgo, Toby Torlesse adapting Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name
Cast: Noah Schnapp, Anjelica Huston, Sadi Frost, Jean Reno, Nicolas Rowe, Thomas Kretschmann, Frederick Schmidt, Gilles Marini, Tómas Lemarquis, Elsa Zylberstein, Joséphine de la Baume
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/23/20
Opens: February 7, 2020

Jean Reno, Sadie Frost, Anjelica Huston, Thomas Kretschmann, Urs Rechn, Nicholas Rowe, Elsa Zylberstein, William Abadie, Tómas Lemarquis, Gilles Marini, Joséphine de La Baume, Phin Glynn, Frederick Schmidt, Raj Awasti, Noah Schnapp, and Lukas Sauer in Waiting for Anya (2020)

Geography is destiny. If you’re born in America or Canada you have less chance of starving to death than if you come from Burkina Faso or Eritrea. If you’re born in Western Europe, you are not much of a candidate for malaria or diphtheria as you would be if you your village is near Mogadishu or Djouba. And if you’ve been privileged to be baptized a Catholic in Sioux City, you are probably not going to be victim of anti-Semites.

However! If you have the distinct disadvantage of entering the world in Germany or Poland during the 1930s and remain there despite warnings, you are in deep defecation. Once the German borders closed, Jews remaining there or in any of that country’s occupations will inevitably be shot or gassed, perhaps tortured in a concentration camp and hanged. So what to do if that’s your state of affairs? You’ve got to forget about your house, your clothing, your bank account, and hightail it into a nearby more tolerant country like Albania and Bulgaria. Ben Cookson’s narrative drama “Waiting for Anya” deals with one hero who escorted a Jewish family over the Pyrenees to safety in (Fascist, ironically) Spain.

Despite how gruesome a movie on this subject looks, you probably should not worry about taking your children, even as young as eight. The movie, like the movie of the same name written by the British laureate author Michael Morpurgo, could not be described as “Holocaust 101,” because that would imply a college level course. This is more like middle school material which might be laughed at by some adults who think that this is a mature film, but clearly the dialogue serves as easily digestible for kids. (Morpurgo’s novel “War Horse” is about a horse fighting in France who longs for the return of his human companion.)

In his sophomore feature, director Ben Cooksen sets his film in the French village of Lescun during the early 1940s and filmed who-knows-where because the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes are clueless about the breathtaking “Sound of Music”-style mountain range, “Waiting for Anya” centers on Jo (Noah Schnapp), a shepherd in his mid-teens, impressionable, a lad who is obviously not thinking of where can find a date for Saturday night. Why not? He is too busy risking his life to save Jews. Since he and his family—most notably his grandpere (Jean Reno) and a no-nonsense widow, Horcada (Anjelica Huston)—await the return of Jo’s dad (Gilles Marini) from a prisoner of war camp. At the same time Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt), a Jew, had escaped from a train taking his fellow Jews to a concentration camp, not before depositing his little girl Anya through a window into a bus. (Benjamin’s escape is among the less credible points in the movie, as he simply leaves the sealed train, hiding under it until it departs.) Benjamin hangs out hidden in the village, awaiting the return of Anya, who had departed in a different direction by bus.

Though the southern French village is under the Vichy regime, not directly occupied by the Nazis, a group of soldiers under a Lieutenant (Tómas Lemarguis) are guarding the frontier to prevent Jews from escaping over the Pyrenees into Spain. Jo takes time from supervising the sheep and feeding the pigs to make sure a band of Jewish survivors stay hidden in a cave, all means for death (including Jo) if discovered.

Aside from the sheep and pigs, “Waiting for Anya” features a dog, perhaps a Border Collie which is the breed best suited for herding sheep; and a bear, which threatens the life of Jo in one scene. Though the whole town are in on protecting the Jews, there is also one good German, a corporal (Thomas Kretschmann) who may the only one from his country who knows where the Jews are hiding but says nothing. He endears himself to Jo, acting as an unusual mentor to the boy.

A lively performance from Noah Schnapp who is 15 in real life and can be seen on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” should captivate the youngsters in the movie audience with his audacity, his desire to learn (even if it’s from one of the Bosch), and his high ethical conduct. Think of similar Holocaust adventures marketed to kids as well as adults such as “Life is Beautiful” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” (which makes you think that the young son of a concentration camp commandant chats amiably with an inmate on the other side of barbed wire). Don’t guffaw at the simple dialogue and the sentiment projected herein, now that you know that Morpugo’s novel is recommended for kids, its scary cover noting that “they only have one chance to escape.”

As Holocaust survivors die off and as teens are riveted to the dumb-phones, many young people have no idea what the word “Holocaust” means. This movie serves as a decent primer. (Hey! It’s not just kids who are uninformed. Even some adults today think that Trump is being impeached for cutting a devil’s bargain with Czechoslovakia.)

Everybody speaking English.

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

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

PROMISE AT DAWN – movie review

PROMISE AT DAWN (La promesse de l’aube)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eric Barbier
Screenwriters: Eric Barbier, Romain Gary, Marie Eynard
Cast: Pierre Niney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Didier Bourdon, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Catherine McCormack, Finnegan Oldfield
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/19
Opens: September 6, 2019 at New York’s Quad Cinema

La promesse de l'aube (2017)

In an internet article by Adina Kay Gross et al “My Jewish Learning: What it means to be a Jewish mother today,” the columnists note that people think of Jewish mothers as mddle-aged women with a nasal New York accent who sweat over a steaming pot of matzo balls while screaming at their kids; or she could be the one who sits poolside in Florida jangling her diamonds and guilt-tripping her children into calling her more often. “She is sacrificing, yet demanding, manipulative and tyrannical devoted and ever-present. She loves her children fiercely, but man, does she nag.”

The surprising thing as that the bloggers wrote this years before the release of “Promise at Dawn,” but then again, maybe Eric Barbier, who directed by picture using a script he wrote with Marie Eynard (with a posthumous credit to Romain Gary), copied the theme from that article. Nah, but it sure seems that way. “Promise at Dawn” is not simply a biopic honoring the great writer-adventurer Romain Gary, who, while not fighting the Germans from a base in England penned thirty-four novels and collaborated with Cornelius Ryan on the great war movie “The Longest Day.” It is a quintessential treatment—one of the best in recent memory—of the love-hate feelings that a demanding Jewish mother evokes from her only son—yet we can credit her for pushing her boy to be what he became, oh, just a winner of the Goncourt Prize for French literature twice. Never mind that French law prohibits the giving of such an award more than once to the same writer.

And yes, Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers such a fierce, over the top performance as Nina Kacew, a Jewish mother that you may want to raise your champagne glass to her and say “mazel tov and Le Haim!” It helps that she’s playing against terrific performances by Pierre Niney as her son Romain Kacew, who later changes his name to Romaine Gary, and by Pawel Puchalski and Némo Schiffman as Romain from ages eight and ten and then as an adolescent respectively. Director Barbier is in his métier having served at the helm for “Le brasier” about, among other things, the relationship of father and son.

You’ll come away comparing Romain Gary to Ernest Hemingway, meaning that he was a writer who did not sit in his room pecking away at the typewriter without living life and without rugged experiences as his guide. Here is a fellow who could help land a plane during World War 2 after his pilot is blinded by an enemy bullet, and who is able even to stand up (a little, at least), to a mother who knows that her brilliant son could write prize-winning literature while serving as a French ambassador. If you’re an only son, as I am, you’ll probably relate all the more to the subject matter, perhaps swinging your view of your own mom from wanting to say “Get the hell out of my room and mind your own business” to “Mom, I love you; why don’t you come over and visit more often?”

The movie, based on Romain Gary’s best-selling autobiography of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, is framed in Mexico, opening on a celebration of Día de los muertos (you’ve seen that event in a most stunning form in the 007 movie “Spectre”). He has become exhausted while writing “Promise at Dawn,” his wife Lesley Blanch (Catherine McCormack) looking on. Changing quickly to Romain’s childhood in Vilnius in the Russian Empire where Romain’s mother Nina made a living selling hats to women (including at least one anti-Semite), the Francophone Nina moves to Nice, France, to give her son a better environment to pursue a career in literature. She opening a hotel there, taking a little time to advise her son to get a pistol, go to Berlin and kill Hitler.

During one of his early trysts with women, Romain is caught by his mother in bed with the maid leading her to fire the servant—too much competition for Nina, presumably. Romain tries to write, is rejected four times, and appears to get his mojo in the military despite being the only recruit out of 300 who does not receive stripes as a officer. “Dreyfus had it worse,” his commanding officer consoles, selecting Romain to go with him to England to continue the war. We can imagine that the officer does not relish Romain’s remaining in France after that country’s defeat as his fate as a Jewish prisoner of war would not be enviable.

I would have liked to know more about Gary’s suicide, since he does not appear a victim of serious depression, but then, as with Anthony Bourdain’s similar taking of life we may never really know. If you look at the Wikipedia article on Romain Gary, you may find that the director honors the man by following his actual life story, giving the French hero all the accolades and avoiding fictional embellishment. Gary’s mother really was like that helicopter parent, and Romain really performed heroic service in the military despite the humiliation of earning no stripes in his graduating class. Romain Gary: novelist, diplomat, film director and World War II aviator. It’s all in the movie and well-serviced especially by Charlotte Gainsbourg under the director’s period look at the twenties through the end of the war and beyond.

In French, English subtitles, filmed in Hungary, Belgium, Morocco, and Italy.

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

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT – movie revewi

From Montréal’s Fantasia International Film Festival 2018

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT

Epic Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Robert D. Krzykowski
Screenwriter:  Robert D. Krzykowski
Cast:  Sam Elliott, Aidan Turner, Caitlin FitzGerald, Ron Livingston, Ellar Coltraine
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/12/18
Opens: July 20, 2018

Featuring a revisionist view of history, an element of horror, regret at a romantic opportunity not taken, Robert D. Krzkowski’s fantasy is mostly about the loneliness and melancholy of old age.  And who better to pay the part of a quiet man who rises several times to the occasion when only violence is justified than Sam Elliott?  As Calvin Barr, this New England resident lives a quiet life with his loyal Golden Retriever Ralph, and is a subject that is in the writer-director’s métier.  Though this is Krzykowki’s freshman feature-length movie, we can anticipate the subject matter by noting that his short “Elsie” in 2016 is located in the sleepy town of Campbell Falls, wherein one Ridley Hooper awakens to discover that he must rescue his little sister has been stolen by an army of creepy Shadowmen.

What emerges is a look at Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott), who has memories of his younger days, where he is played by Aidan Turner, a World War 2 hero and American soldier with a gift for languages who dons a Nazi officer’s uniform, worms his way into Hitler’s headquarters, and shoots him in the chest and in the head.  Of course we know that Der Fuehrer ended his own life by poison and a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after which his loyal followers destroyed his corpse in limestone.  Or do we?  According to Krzykowski, the assassination was covered up and it was really Hitler’s number two man who ended his life as the Russians moved in.

Using his signature gruff voice and monotone, Elliott appears with a thick head of white hair parted in the middle, his only roommate being Ralph the dog, and for our benefit, Calvin conjures up the past.  He is a resounding success as an espionage agent who infiltrates the Nazi war machine, observing two lines of prisoners bound to a train leading to a concentration camp.  Though he knows his killing of Hitler is both justified and essential, he has mixed feelings since, after all, he had taken a man’s life.

In a more pleasant setting, he dates Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), and is about to offer her a diamond ring in an upscale restaurant when the couple are harassed by the parents of one of Maxine’s third-grade students.  They profess their love for each other, but nothing has come of it, though events overtake the two leading to Calvin’s loneliness.  Now in 1985 the elderly gentleman is still able to fend off an attack by three thugs demanding his wallet and car keys.  Knowing Calvin’s reputation in the war and of the way he dispatched the muggers, two agents–one from the FBI, Flag Pin (Ron Livingston), the other, Maple Leaf (Rizwan Manji), from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, visit him in his cabin begging him to go to the Canadian wilds and destroy Bigfoot (Mark Streger), a monster who is spreading an epidemic that could lead to the end of the world.

Calvin is a man of few words and, in fact, he has not kept in communication with his younger brother Ed (Larry Miller), a small-town barber, who offers to give him solace if only he would use him to relieve the stress of Calvin’s loneliness.  Since the title of the film already gives away that Calvin kills both monsters, Hitler and Bigfoot, there is no surprise there.  Instead the real treat is in Sam Elliott’s performance, a delightfully underplayed execution that is threatened only by Joe Kraemer’s loud, intrusive music.  This is the kind of American myth which is however fantastical comes across as strangely believable.  And boy, do we need a myth to believe in now!

Unrated.  98 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY – movie review

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ben Lewin
Screenwriter:  Robert Rodat
Cast:  Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Tom Wilkinson, Giancarlo Giannini
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/9/18
Opens: June 22, 2018
The Catcher Was A Spy - Movie Posters
I was about to say that there’s not a heck of a lot of major league baseball players who are Jewish but got straightened out by Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Jewish_Major_League_Baseball_players. Morris (Moe) Berg was not only one of them, though not much more than a mediocre catcher.  His forte was intellectual.  He graduated from Princeton and Columbia, knew 12 languages including Latin, Turkish, Japanese, Sanskrit and Hindi, and read 10 newspapers daily.  In other words he was a Renaissance man, ideally suited, our military believed, for acting out a project as a spy during World War 2 and an assassin.  In a best-selling book by Nicholas Dawidoff “The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg,” the egghead-jock was known as the brainiest man who ever played for the Majors.  Ben Lewin, who adapts the book along with Robert Rodat give us nothing to doubt that assessment.

The biopic, which takes some liberties with truth, fashions Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) as a guy who was not being entirely self-deprecatory when he describes his baseball achievements without a shred of bravado when folks crowd around him and ask him to autograph a ball.  But ultimately he does such a fantastic job as a spy that he was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian can get for contributing to the national interests of the United States.

But something is amiss in the film.  Somehow a picture about espionage—about a plan to assassinate a German nuclear scientist—comes across as not only old-fashioned (which Lewin may have intended) but as plain dull.  There are stereotypical scenes at night during rain and fog which makes the viewer think of the hoariest of clichés “It was a dark and stormy night.”  And while Rudd successfully passes himself off as an intellectual, in part by playing a chess game without a board and with the man he is expected to kill, he is too bland for the role and is better suited for films like “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Ant Man,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”  He does have a woman friend, Estella Huni (Sienna Miller) who is itching to marry him and who participates in one sexual scene which, however innocent today, would never have been shown if the film were released in the 1940s.

Before the war began, Berg is touring Japan playing exhibition games with American baseball stars, but he shows his capacity for spying by filming military targets from the roof of a tall building.  While playing catcher for the White Sox, Red Sox, Indians and Senators he is thought to be “queer,” and in one instance he is followed down the street by a bully and comes off able to defend himself and then some.  When William J. Donovan (Jeff Daniels), a high official in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), later to morph in the CIA, is considering sending Berg out on his assassination mission, the catcher is asked whether he is “queer” and answers “I can keep a secret”—the perfect reply in that his mission requires great secrecy.

The baseball scene is all too brief and so is the battle action. When Samuel Goudsmit (Paul Giammatti), a physicist working for the U.S. in Italy, becomes trapped in a shootout with German occupiers, Goudsmit comes off as a fish out of water but acts the part in a clownish and embarrassing way.  Ultimately Berg is smuggled from Italy across the Swiss border to Zurich where he does meet the would-be victim, Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong). While we in the audience might be tempted to think “Shoot the guy and stop talking,” we may be missing the point.  Berg is using his intellect to ignore the order at least temporarily while he tries to calculate whether Heisenberg would defect to the Allied effort.  Germany did not develop nuclear weapons.

Though Berg would hang out in gay bars, there is little indication that he was homosexual, and in any rate, the suggestion as conjured by scripter Robert Rodat is superfluous, a possible invention that does a disservice to the hero.  Andrij Parekh filmed the action in Prague and Boston, taking full advantage of cloak and dagger proceedings on dark and foggy nights.  English is spoken throughout with an occasional injection of Italian and Japanese.

Rated R.  98 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

AFTER AUSCHWITZ – movie review

AFTER AUSCHWITZ

Bala Cynwyd Productions
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon Kean
Screenwriter: Jon Kean
Cast: Eva Beckmann, Rena Drexler, Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby, Lili Majzner, Linda Sherman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/28/18
Opens: April 20, 2018

After Auschwitz Poster

Only those inmates who entered the Nazi concentration camps at a youthful age are still alive today. Very young boys and girls were generally gassed as useless to the German war machine. The six brave women who populate Jon Kean documentary were about 18-23 years old when they entered Auschwitz. Some died since the making of this film and, as they say, time is running out. We cannot learn first-hand about the experiences of survivors for much longer, though thanks to the magic of celluloid, their testimonies will be with us forever.

Eva Beckmann, Rena Drexler, Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby, Lili Majzner and Linda Sherman were mostly from Eastern Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. One was from Holland. They discuss in part their experiences in 1945 after the British or the Russians liberated them, but most of the doc deals with their lives in the West, particularly the USA. Still it bears mentioning that the country that is supposed to be a haven for people who are yearning to breathe free was not too eager to issue visas given the anti-Semitism allegedly present in our own State Department.

The one theme that runs through the experiences of the six women is that after they were freed from the camps, they could not return to their homes in Eastern Europe. Their property had been taken over by the locals and in some cases fellow Czechs dragged survivors through the streets, blaming Jews for the black market and yelling that they will never again see their living quarters.

After a stay in Displaced Persons camps, many went on to New York and California, though the film is not clear how they dug up the money for flights, which were more expensive then than they are now. These women, bless them, might be able to sustain an 83 minute film by talking to the cameras, but thankfully archival clips take over about half of the running time, shifting back to the camps during the week of liberation where bodies, thousands of them, are piled up unburied. Destruction in Germany as we see here was so immense that Hitler’s order to destroy Berlin did not have to be carried out. That was presumably one command that the generals ignored from the madman.

The women traveled around by train, and terrific archival shots show people riding on the top and on the sides of the carriers as though hoboes during the Depression or perhaps the way some in India travel third-class or even lower.

All the new residents of the USA are pleased with the culture here, except for one who was urged to try Coca-Cola. She drank a glass, and that was the last time for her. Others went to the wider spaces of California. They married, had kids and grandkids. Some gave talks to classes in Hebrew school to youngsters kept in the dark by their parents, though despite the need the women have to teach others so that “it will happen never again,” they do not want to be obsessed with the bad times of the past. What shocks them most is that we haven’t learned. Just mention Darfur, Rwanda, Kosovo, Congo, Armenia. And as nations fall to right wing authoritarians today, we are bound to be faced by similar tragedies—to say nothing of the possibility of the extinction of humanity in a nuclear war.

Jon Kean wrote and directs, a man whose “Swimming in Auschwitz” featured six women who kept their spirits and their faith alive during their months in Auschwitz-Birkenau. His “Kill the Man” describes the adventures of men who try to keep their company afloat while being stressed by the competition and by a visit from a thug.

Unrated. 83 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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