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Murat Han and Ozgu Namal in Bliss

Abdullah Oguz's
Bliss
(Mutluluk)
Opens Friday, August 7, 2009

Written By: Kubilay Tuncer, Elif Ayan, Abdullah Oguz, from Zulfu Livaneli’s novel

Starrung:: Talat Bulut; Ozgu Namall Murat Hanl Mustafa Avkiranl Emn Gursoyl Sebnem Kostem; and Meral Cetinkaya

First Run Features
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

If you were taught by liberal professors, you’ve probably heard the injunction “Respect the culture of others.” Different countries, different customs; varied economic classes, likewise. Urban people are likely to have different ways of living than those in rural areas, Western Europe more progressive than Eastern. Don’t cross your legs in Thailand because Thais are disgusted by the bottoms of people’s shoes. Don’t shake hands with Japanese or use your hands to signal. There are big exceptions to this role of toleration. Some cultural mores are so out of tune with what rational people should can accept that outside forces would do well to correct them. The British outlawed sutee in India, a custom in which a widow would immolate herself on a funeral pyre after the death of her husband. Stoning in Iran, such as that exhibited by the excellent film The Stoning of Sonya M is beneath contempt, not only for its barbarism but for the “crime” of the accused which could be adultery, or even the thought that the victim is an adulteress.

Abdullah Oguz’s marvelous Turkish film Bliss, adapted from Zulfu Livaneli’s best-selling novel and scripted by Kubilay Tuncer, Elif Ayan, and Abdullah Oguz, deals with the subject of honor killing, a practice used in remote villages in Eastern Turkey though foreign to Istanbul. When a woman is raped, notwithstanding the fact that she has been forced, she is unclean and must be killed to restore the honor of the family. Sick, eh? But what you’re reading here is only words. Mutluluk, as the film is called in its original Turkish language (bold, clear English subtitles are a welcome addition), explores the nature of this bestial code, but goes beyond that. Bliss deals not just with a seventeen-year-old girl from the sticks of Eastern Turkey and the cousin who wants her dead to restore honor; the film also explores the lives of three people, all of whom are alienated from the lives they’d been living, and looking for a way out.

Bliss is not only the title of the movie: viewing it is a positively blissful experience, a must-see that affords the audience a look at Turkey’s scenic topography, the clash of customs between city and village, between Asian and Europe, and between the educated and the unenlightened. It’s comic and sad, melodramatic and tragic, the ensemble putting their all into the story to give it the gravitas and the lightness it so well deserves.

Bliss will have cineastes comparing it to Roman Polanski’s 1962 film Knife in the Water, given that much of the action takes place on a yacht. Seventeen-year-old Meryem (Ozgu Namal) is found unconscious, returns to her rickety village home of her father, Tahsin (Emin Gursoy), a victim of rape who refuses (until a dramatic turn of events near the conclusion) to name her attacker. Urged by her wicked stepmother (Sebnem Kostem) to hang herself in order to “go to heaven,” she decides to live. When Tahsin’s cousin, Ali Riza Amca (Mustafa Avkiran), notes that her “crime” calls for her to be killed to restore family honor, he arranges for his son Cemal (Murat Han) to escort the girl to Istanbul and throw her over a balcony on the way. While backing down from his “duty,” Cemal falls under the influence of his old friend Yakup, a city mouse, who condemns hick customs. When Irfan (Talat Bulut) hires Cemal to assist him on his yacht, a fondness for the girl grows with both men. In the meantime, the bad guys from village are hot on their trail.

Even a potential audience that looks with horror on foreign-language films could find much that rewards. This is both a mainstream film and arthouse fare, a movie with believable, if stereotypical, characters, all effecting changes in their lives. The white-haired and bearded Irfan has walked out on his sophisticated wife, disgusted with the bourgeois-intellectual customs of the clan. Cemal is torn between his obligations to kill the girl and his growing love for her. Meryem, casting off the fear of being killed, asserts herself and despite her second-grade education it seem she just might find a home in Istanbul.

This is a moving film that could benefit the Turkish Tourist Board as well as cineastes. Tebrikler!

Unrated. 106 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Joe Berlinger's
Crude
Opens Wednesday, September 9, 2009

 


Written By: Joe Berlinger
Starring: Pablo Fajardo; Luis Yanza; German Yanez; Adolfo Callejas; Diego Larrea; Emergildo Criollo; Steven Donziger; Alejandro Ponce; Joseph Kohn; Maria Garofalo; Sara McMillan; Ricardo Reis Veiga; Rosa Moreno; Rafael Correa; Trudie Styler; Silvia Yanez; and Richard Cabrera

First Run Features
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Think of Joe Berlinger’s Crude not as a documentary—a word that strikes fear and loathing in the souls of entertainment-seekers who believe that fiction is always more entertainment than truth and who’d sooner see a movie starring Paris Hilton than anything that features talking heads. Think of this film instead as something from the pen of John Grisham, with themes like "Whites brutalize an oppressed minority" (A Time to Kill), “Characters enjoy their newfound wealth” (The Firm), "Oil tycoon drills in a Louisiana swamp endangering life" (The Pelican Brief), or "A huge corporation defends itself against a plaintiff who develops lung cancer" (The Runaway Jury). Crude is as riveting and entertaining as anything found in Grisham, and what’s more the events portrayed during the writer-director’s 600 hours of film really took place in an area that few Americans are familiar with; namely, the rainforests of Ecuador.

There is one big difference between Grisham and Berlinger. Grisham, arguably the most financially successful living writer in America, sides with the little guy—who often wins nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory against soulless corporations. Berlinger tackles a tale that would make anyone in the audience to the left of Attila the Hun vote a big award for the besieged plaintiffs, little guys all. Yet the writer-director-producer avoids Michael Moore-style agitprop in favor of a balanced treatment. Yes, Virginia, even mega-business interests have a side that’s worth considering, but to be more exact, the company gets only about fifteen percent of the time of this film.

Writer-director Joe Berlinger has his camera crew follow the action from Quito, Ecuador to several villages that serve as homes for the 30,000 indigenous people in the Amazon jungle; then on to New York, San Francisco, and London among the wide spectrum of areas globally. The case against Chevron is that when the mega-energy company was in Ecuador at the behest of that country’s pro-American government, the workers spilled humongous amounts of toxic waste into the waters and soil of the Amazon. As a result, the cancer rate among the native populations soared, drinking water dried up, and some of the indigenous people had to rely on canned tuna fish (ugh) because the deadly waters could not support fish life.

Pablo Fajardo serves as lead attorney for the plaintiffs, i.e. the 30,000 locals in this class-action suit, a handsome compact man who is ultimately given ink by Vanity Fair magazine and invited to a Sting concert for the environment at Giant Stadium. Agents of the corporation, which for some reason I could not fathom had urged the case to be moved from the U.S. to Ecuador, hold that the cancer rate did not actually increase, but most of all that since Chevron was nationalized in 1992 to become the state-owned PetroEcuador, any spills that occurred were PetroEcuador’s responsibility since Chevron had done the needed clean-up before leaving the country. Moreover, defendant argues that the government of Ecuador had freed Chevron of all legal responsibility for the sludge. The company further holds that the plaintiffs are in it for the money. (One wonders: if Chevron ever has to cough up $27 billion in remediation fees, which is recommended by one official who has pored over the facts, do the plaintiff lawyers get $9 billion? If so, Chevron may have a point.)

Steven Donziger serves as consulting attorney, an American who speaks fluent Spanish albeit with a Yankee accent. He serves as liaison, in one instance setting up a visit by three members of the local population to come to the U.S. for the shareholders’ meeting at Chevron to tell their story.

Politically the case takes a turn for the plaintiffs when Rafael Correa, a leftist who would presumably never allow a U.S. corporation to corrupt the Ecuadorian environment as allegedly did Chevron, is elected by 67% of the populace. Some Americans fret that all South America could turn socialist, as Correa joins Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, who could make decisions against the interests of American corporate power.

Behind the cameras, Pocho Alvarez, Joe Berligner, and Michael Bonfiglio give us armchair travelers a taste of life in the Ecuadorian Amazon free from the heat, humidity and mosquitoes. This is a well-researched documentary with bold English subtitles, the filmmakers seeming to know where each of the major actions will take place.

And oh, John Grisham would have related quite well to the film’s conclusion
Unrated. 105 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online




Steve Jacobs’
Disgrace

Opens Friday, September 18, 2009

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Based on J.M. Coetzee’s beloved Booker Prize winning novel, Disgrace taps into the dark, dangerous and, often, destructive side of human nature—specifically the nature of MALE desire and does so in a painfully honest and fearless manner.

John Malkovich delivers an intricate and bold performance as David Lurie, an English professor in South Africa who brazenly seduces a student (an indifferent Antoinette Engel) and proceeds to pursue her long after she is interested. (Although I was never convinced she was interested and his pursuit seemed to tow the date rape line.)

When the powers-that-be discover his proclivities and demand an explanation, Lurie refuses and simply states he is guilty. Showing no remorse, he is forced to resign and journeys to a remote Eastern Cape farm to stay with his lesbian daughter, Lucy (Jessica Haines). Father and daughter are about as different as two people can be and soon a vicious attack by three young local boys throws their lives into a frenzy where the aftershocks of post-Apartheid South Africa is explored with incredulity and injustice seemingly winning the day.

Disgrace is quite a complex film and has its share of flaws, including the above mentioned lack of a clear presentation of the relationship between Lurie and his student. Also, after the film’s emotionally devastating turn, we aren't privy enough to the reasons behind Lucy’s desire to stay where she is. Anna-Maria Monticelli’s crisp script could have been more nuanced and Steve Jacobs mostly-impressive direction might have benefited from less meandering.

What really makes Disgrace worth seeing are the two central performances. Malkovich truly shows us a man who lets his sexual nature overtake him. He is self-aware and unapologetic and that is as refreshing as it is outrageously offensive. When his daughter becomes a victim of a similar type of male sexual dominance, he is forced to examine himself and his own actions. And the affair he has with an older animal shelter vet (a terrific Fiona Press) is paradoxical and fascinating.

But the film’s beacon is newcomer Jessica Haines. She is simply brilliant. It’s impossible to believe this is her first feature. Haines allows us to see all the fear, pain and loathing—self and otherwise--in such subtle and sublime ways. It’s a brave turn--never showy, always penetrating--and deserves award recognition. Haines is so emotionally raw and engaging that she transcends the symbolic nature of her character and reaches a powerful, profound and human level onscreen that is a wonder to behold.


Neill Blomkamp's
District 9
Opens Friday, August 14, 2009



Written By: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Starring: Sharlto Copley; Jason Cope; David James; Vanessa Haywood; Mandla Gaduka; Kenneth Nkosi; Eugene Khumbanyiwa; Louis Minnaar; and William Allen Young

Columbia Pictures
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

If your favorite food is prawns, those nice, juicy, ugly crustaceans stir-fried in a wok with a combinations of mysterious sauces, be sure to go to lunch before you see District 9. Afterwards you may decide to get scallops instead, because the prawns in this movie are ten feet tall and they’re big, ugly, black-liquid spewing characters. They don’t act so nice either, but that’s not their fault: they’ve been marginalized to say the least, thrown into a ghetto called District 9 where they are to have no contact with human beings—forever. There is much in director Neill Blomkamp’s vision that is allegorical. One suspects that without the political commentary, there would be nothing to the story.

Notwithstanding the political implications, which are a none-too-subtle aspect of the script which the director co-wrote with Terri Tatchell, District 9 is neither particularly original nor in any way gripping. There is no real character development, not even for the principal fellow who has the most direct contact with the aliens which are called prawns by the humans, nor does Blomkamp’s tale provide suspense. That being the case, there is no-one in the picture to care about, nor are we successfully prompted to have empathy or sympathy for the creatures despite the hard luck that finds them fish out of water, so to speak, desiring nothing more than to go home.

Neill Blomkamp, born in South Africa and now living in Canada, situates the picture in the land of his birth, in and around Johannesburg, a large city that finds slum dwellers able to look out upon the skyscrapers housing businesses that do nothing to advance their comfort. A space ship arrives there (perhaps the only original idea in the movie in that most space ships tend to favor Roswell, New Mexico), runs out of gas, and remains suspended for twenty years above Jo’Burg, its inhabitants separated from the human community behind the barbed wire of District 9. They’re not really prawns, but that’s what the humans call them because of their appearance and the belief that they are bottom-feeders—though they like cat food rather than crabs. The aliens need a black liquid to get their ship moving and to power weapons that they can use in their defense. Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa), who heads a Nigerian mafia, wants to get at these wepons.

When Wikus (Sharlto Copey) becomes infected with a prawn virus that changes his DNA, first observed when he loses some teeth and fingernails but grows a claw to replace an arm, Obesandjo orders his fellow criminals to cut off the man’s arm so that he can eat it and develop the ability to harness the power of the aliens’ weaponry.

Sharlto Copey dominates the proceedings, a man on the run from the alien self that he is becoming and from the scientists in an organizations known as MNU who want to harvest his organs, thereby enabling them to utilize advanced weaponry. He allies himself with Christopher (Jason Cope), a prawn, and Christiopher’s young son, pursued by Koobus (David James), who looks like Jason Stratham and seeks to kill Wikus.

The movie opens as a mock-doc, talking heads discussing the nature of the ship that hovers over the city’s landscape, with actual archival film to show crowd scenes. Trent Opaloch’s mini-cameras take us into the heart of the action in such a way that we think that the cameraman is himself running from both prawns and humans.

The action takes place over a period of seventy-four hours, the time needed for Wikus to develop a full-scale claw and for Clinton Shorter’s music to hit the soundtrack with effectively scary tones. As a buddy picture and road movie, District 9 encapsulates the dilemma of apartheid, a system of government in South Africa that once allowed fifteen percent of whites to dominate eighty-five percent of blacks. In a broader sense, this is an allegory of what humans beings have done to other human beings since time immemorial. While the point is made to anyone in the audience who paid attention to the moralizing of their middle-school teachers, the movie presents a stream of events involving people who mean nothPhase 4 Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Kartening to those of us who sat through the film in a merely dutiful way.

Rated R. 112 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Kari Skogland's
Fifty Dead Men Walking
Opens Friday, August 21, 2009


Written By: Kari Skogland, inspired by Martin McGartland & Nicholas Davies’s book Fifty Dead Men Walking
Starring: Jim Sturgess; Ben Kingsley; Kevin Zegers; Natalie Press; and Rose McGowen

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

In the opening chapter of Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, writer Paul Theroux notes an experience in “an Irish pub where refugees from Ulster swore obscenely at the TV whenever they saw Prince Charles on it, and laughed like morons the day Lord Mountbatten was blown up by the IRA.” The British are not particularly loved by the Catholic population of Northern Ireland, nor will you hear Kumbaya sung by the province’s Protestants in harmony with its Catholics. The Protestants form a majority of the semi-autonomous land, generally wanting to remain part of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Catholics generally want to be free from British “protection.”

Judging from recent movies about what’s called The Troubles—that is, the friction between the two religious/political factions—there are several ways to tell the story of The Troubles. One, Steve McQueen’s Hunger, is a mostly meditative focus on Bobby Sands, a great hero to the Catholics, who died slowly and voluntarily by starvation to protest British hegemony—thereby leading to worldwide riots in his support. Another, Oliver Herschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven, is a mostly chamber piece, a theatrical, melodramatic look at a confrontation between the brother of a murdered man and his killer, thirty-three years after the commission of the crime. Scheduled to open to same day as the latter film, Kari Skogland’s Fifty Dead Men Walking, is neither meditative nor stagy but a knock-down, drag-out thriller based, like the two aforementioned products, on a true story. This one features a confused and rootless young man who joined and was trusted by the radical Irish Republic Army only to sell out the organization and become a hero to the British by acting as an informer. According to the British agent who used the fellow as an operative, he saved at least fifty lives by preventing planned occurrences of terrorism.

Then again as we’ve often heard, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom-fighter, but this IRA turncoat, or “tout,” as informers were called by the organization, seems so naive that he’s not even sure of what the IRA does. He seems not political at all, forming a bond with the British agent for reasons other than disillusionment.

Filled with bloody fighting, point-blank assassinations and gruesome torture by hitmen, Kari Skogland’s Fifty Dead Men Walking features a magnificent performance by Jim Sturgess (21, Across the Universe) as Martin McGartland who, in the opening scene somewhere in Canada in 1999 is shot several times point-blank while defrosting the window of his car. He puts up a terrific fight with his ski-masked assailant, an indication of the indomitable spirit he displays throughout. Back to West Belfast in the 1980’s, McGartland, daring a British policeman to shoot him, then running away, is a petty thief, trying to drum up business in the neighborhood selling dresses to less-than-enthusiastic women. Recruited by a high-level member of the IRA, he appears to have taken up an offer by British agent Fergus (Sir Ben Kingsley) to pass information to the other side in return for money, a job for the first time in his life which enables him to get a car and a nice apartment for him and his now-pregnant girlfriend Lara (Natalie Press). As IRA agents become suspicious, tension mounts for both the operative and us in the audience, a tension furthered beautifully by Ben Mink’s restrained, original music.

If you have not seen much of Ben Kingsley since Schindler’s List you’ll note that he is showing his age, his sharp features flattening out, his role strictly to subordinate to, and be less impressive than Jim Sturgess.

As scripter, Kari Skogland turns out a complex plot, the action moving often at a furious pace. The movie at 117 minutes never overextends its welcome.

Unrated. 117 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online




Steven Soderbergh's
The Informant!
Opens Friday, September 18, 2009


Written By: Scott Z. Burns, from Kurt Eichenwald’s book The Informant (A True Story)
Starring: Matt Damon; Scott Bakula; Joel McHale; and Melanie Lynskey

Warner Bros.
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

People give all kinds of excuses for being plump. “It runs in my family; can’t do anything about it.” “I eat like a bird: must be fate.” “I exercise two hours a day; can’t figure it out.” Here’s a new one: “Hollywood made me do it.” This last excuse turns out to be true. In Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, Tom Hardy gains one hundred pounds to play the title character, a real-life person who is so muscular—accustomed to doing 2500 pushups a day in prison—that he looks almost slim. Compared to Hardy’s gorging, Matt Damon’s seems like a piece of cake, or several pieces if you will. He gained thirty pounds for the role of the title character, Mark Whitacre, in The Informant! (half of which just may be attributed to his huge rug), a dramatization of a real-life story. The exclamation point in he title is used to indicate that the movie is a comedy, a dark comedy, though.

Soderbergh, could be called a man of the left. His film, Erin Brockovich, dramatized the true life story of a woman who almost single-handedly brought down a California power company for polluting the water supply.

The Informant! is a complex story that demands full audience attention, as the dialogue comes thick and fast, as do the manipulations of its chief character and his nemesis, a giant food corporation named Archer Daniels Midland. As Mark Whitacre, Damon’s character is the opposite of Carl Allen’s in Peyton Reed’s Yes Man. Whitacre cannot tell the truth. He is considered manic depressive, ultimately using the bipolar defense when indicted for fraud for taking millions in kickbacks for awarding corporate contracts. But he considers himself the Guy in the White Hat, someone who, by blowing the whistle, is intent on tearing down the company he works for as Vice President, despite his paycheck of $350,000 a year. Why would he do this? See the picture to find out.

With his fake moustache, fake hair, and fake regard for the truth, Whitacre works out of a Decatur, Illinois office of his agribusiness, whose main industry is the production of corn. Corn that is involved in the production of everything from food for shrimps, to the gunk in your Coca-Cola, to carrying bags. When he tells his boss that there’s a mole in the office, he’s telling a partial truth—he is the mole who has been wired by FBI agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) to get the goods on ADM for fixing prices with its large Japanese competitor. The Japanese are demanding a bribe of ten million dollars to name the mole.

The chief comedy comes not only from the dialogue, but from Mark’s inner life, his fantasies which are not necessarily of the Walter Mitty variety, but are of the kind that all of us take part in. When in conference with some executives, he is thinking about one man’s tie, guessing that it’s a cheapie that could be picked up two for a dollar. We’re clued in that this man is not only intelligent but has a sense of humor, even in labeling himself “0014” because “I’m twice as smart as James Bond.” Much of the humor is mined, as well, by the ways that he drives the FBI agents nuts with his fantastic tales of a prospective Japanese takeover of the world’s business. He’s obviously read his Michael Crichton.

Matt Damon, a Soderbergh favorite, is in virtually every frame, whether gaining the confidence of his wife, Ginger Whitacre (Melanie Lynskey) or telling everyone who listens that he was adopted by a rich guy after his parents were killed in a car crash (You lie!). This is likely to be the actor’s own favorite role, as he’s given his head by the director to do whatever it is that bipolar people do, except that he seems never to be depressed. The Informant! stands out for deliberately avoiding belly-laughs in favor of the richer, inner smiles that audience members should get (by paying attention). Scott Z. Burns’s script is clever, with Peter Andrews serving behind the camera and Marvin Hamlisch’s music keeping the mood upbeat.

Rated R. 108 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online




Quentin Tarrantino's
Inglorious Basterds
Opens Friday August 21, 2009



Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Starring:: Brad Pitt; Melanie Laurent; Christoph Waltz; Eli Roth; Michael Fassbender; and Diane Kruger

The Weinstein Company/ Universal Pictures
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

The New York Times on August 3, 2009 had one of its periodic columns, “What is happiness?” Readers were invited to respond. More than one blogger stated that happiness is not really what we seek: what we really want are intense experiences. Still another responded that being “in the flow” is the desideratum. Often the closest we get to intense experiences is in the movie theater, where we vicariously watch others enjoy overpowering sensations. There’s much to be said for vicariousness: Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds satisfies us with people who risk their lives in return for saving others, but more important for the characters in the film are the adventures that provide them with the same thrills that are felt by skydivers, skiers, jockeys, and others who are living “in the present” and therefore “in the flow.”

No-one can surpass writer-director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) in making a pop movie like this one. He transforms some frightening years out of the history books into fantasy. What would have happened if Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Bormann were all simultaneously killed? Would that have ended World War II on the Western front almost immediately? One Nazi officer seems confident that it would: Inglourious Basterds finds that man in a major role of what is really a thoroughly realized ensemble piece.

The fairy tale—which includes even a scene that could have come out of Cinderella—opens on a dairy farmer in occupied France who is being interrogated by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a Nazi officer who is too clever by half in a performance that may well prove to be the year’s best study of a villain. Landa, who is fluent in German, French, Italian and English, is living "cinematic" evidence that a highly educated person is not immune to the racist ideologies of National Socialism. Questioning the farmer whom he suspects is hiding Jews, he is so casual and friendly, chatting amiably while enjoying a glass of the farmer’s milk, that we in the audience tense in our seats, knowing that something’s up.

The picture is divided into chapters, each with a different tone. Tarantino switches to another part of France where the Basterds—the name given to them by Nazis who fear and hate them—are picking off German soldiers and scalping them. The leader, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, with a southern mountain accent that he retains throughout), encourages one of his team to bash in the heads of the enemy with a baseball bat, a task that man does lovingly with one Nazi official who refuses to give information on the whereabouts of a squadron.

Most of the film finds Brad Pitt's character in the background with the evil, scholarly Colonel Landa capturing some of the best scenes with his playful interrogation of non-Germans, both those held as captives and those whose company he appears to enjoy. In a climactic scene, the colonel has a conversation with Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), who had escaped when her family was massacred and who, three years later, is about to pull off the revenge plot of the century. When the vengeance kicks in, it hits like a Wagnerian Gotterdammerung.

Brad Pitt, made up (with a moustache) to look every bit his 43 years, looks like he’s having fun with his role as a southern Jew, but Christoph Waltz as the arch villain delivers the film's standout performance. Melanie Laurent, as the young woman with vengeance on her mind, performs well whether trying to trick the colonel or fending off the unwelcome attentions of a German sniper.

The varied soundtrack which includes David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire),” Bruno Balz’s “Davon Geht Die Welt Nicht Unter,” and Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say,” is always relevant to the several diverse chapters, all filmed with obvious great expense by Robert Richardson.

Inglourious Basterds cannot be compared to classics like Schindler’s List. The movie is strictly melodrama, not tragedy, but melodrama of the highest sort. Given the numbers of films dealing with the period in Europe overshadowed by the Nazi agenda, we can guess that the only thing millennial about the thousand-year Reich is that movies will continue being made for a thousand more years about that period in history. It’s just possible that as the year 2109 rolls around, Inglourious Basterds will rank (along with Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book) as one of cinema’s most refreshingly imaginative pulp fictions.

Rated R. 152 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart in Love Happens

Brandon Camp's
Love Happens
Opens Friday, September 18, 2009

Written By: Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson
Starring: Jennifer Aniston; Aaron Eckhart; Sasha Alexander; Judy Greer; Martin Sheen; and Dan Fogler

Universal Pictures
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

There’s a theory that sounds reasonable, holding that people become optometrists because they’ve had trouble with their eyes, podiatrists because their corns were killing them, and psychoanalysts because they have serious emotional problems of their own. Why else would someone become interested? In Brandon Camp’s Love Happens, the principal character is something like an analyst, but he has a larger following than most and stands to make a lot more money than the $300 an hour that New York shrinks charge. He’s a self-help guru, whose book bears the simple-minded title A-OKAY. People who read the tome have the option of joining one of his seminars where they sit around and speak their minds, trying to exorcise their demons. Little do the guru’s followers know that their leader has problems more serious than theirs, so bad that he is afraid to ride in elevators, opting to walk thirty-two flights to his room in a Seattle hotel.

Love Happens trots out all the clichés of romantic comedy—the meeting cute, the obstacles that keep the couple apart, the reconciliation. But even worse, Camp’s pic puts us in touch with the all the clichés of weepies, of soaps, with leading persons bawling (yes, that’s bawling spelled with a “w” to keep the MPAA happy and give it a PG-13).

To the credit of the studio, Aaron Eckhart gets top billing in the credits with Jennifer Aniston settling for second, which is right considering that the former spends a lot more time on the screen than she.

This choice might have been worrisome since Eckhart is not as well known, but cinephiles have followed his career when he made far stronger and more original films like In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors before he went for the money, for example by playing Harvey Dent in The Dark Night. This time around, he plays a celeb who has just come out with a book entitled A-OKAY, who is met by large audiences that virtually worship him, all shouting in reply to his “How are you?” with “A-OKAY”—which makes one wonder why they’re there in his seminars. His character, Burke Ryan, meets cute Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) in the hotel lobby, and turns her on so much that she rages against him and his huge ego by following him into the men’s room to continue her rant before walking out. When we learn that both Eloise and Burke have had bad experiences with the opposite sex and “are not ready for dating,” we can see where this is all headed.

Sasha Alexander takes a Joan-Cusack-like role as Eloise’s assistant in the florist business, John Carroll Lynch is the big, lumberjack-type of a fellow named Walter who can’t get over the death of his twelve-year-old son, Dan Fogler performs in the role of Burke’s rah-rah agent trying to set his boss up with a mega-deal, and Martin Sheen is the father-in-law whom Burke tries to avoid out of his own feelings of guilt. The only thing that flies in this movie is an adorable white parrot that repeatedly says “hello.” There had to be some intelligent dialogue somewhere.

Rated PG-13. 109 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Richard Loncraine's
My One and Only
Opens Friday, August 21, 2009



Written By: Charlie Peters
Starring: Renee Zellweger; Logan Lerman; Chris Noth; and Kevin Bacon

Herrick Entertainment/ Freestyle Releasing
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Many a lad or lass when ordered to report to their English classes about “What I did on my summer vacation” has bored their peers even more than their teachers could do. George Devereaux must have been an exception, largely because of the vivacious, spunky, albeit sometimes naive southern belle that was his mother - a mother who took him and his brother on a road trip that taught him quite a bit more than his teachers possibly could.

Nor is it likely that many actors have had such a rich summer vacation: My One and Only, Richard Loncraine’s biographical look at the real adolescence of actor George Hamilton (now seventy years old), is a treat for the audience, featuring a teen actor whose good looks foreshadow handsome Mr. Hamilton’s in the latter’s last movie, Love at First Bite.

Whatever bite the mainstream My One and Only has may be muted, but the wit is there thanks to Charlie Peters’s script and best of all Renee Zellweger, the obvious choice for the aforementioned southern belle, who carries the story off beautifully.

The story opens in the early 1950s as dapper fifteen-year-old George Devereaux (a character who later in life changes his name to George Hamilton who is played in the film by Logan Lerman), offering to buy a Cadillac Eldorado in New York for cash. Devereaux is pulled aside by the sales associates who threaten to turn him over to the cops for theft. Instead George, who proves to be an apt storyteller, describes how he got the money, launching us into the story of George’s summer vacation.

What motivates the road trip? Ann Devereaux (Renee Zellweger) returns early to her New York apartment to find her bandleader husband, Dan (Kevin Bacon), in bed with another woman. With little money, she packs up, takes George and George’s effeminate brother, Robbie (Mark Rendall) on a journey to find a husband for herself and stepfather for her boys. Her road trip, with stops in Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and L.A., introduce us to an ensemble of potential mates, including: a martinet of an army officer, Harlan (Chris Noth), who strikes out when he disciplines the boys; Charlie Correll (Eric McCormack), already with a babe on his arm, proving him to be too young for Ann; paint-store proprietor Bill Massey (David Koechner), whose man-to-man talk with George deals not with the birds and the bees but with the fact that women are either too cold or too warm “so always take a sweater with you”; and a producer in L.A. who auditions the two boys, choosing George to perform in the first movie of his career.

While Zellweger plays to her signature persona, drinking martinis, smoking, and tossing off quite a number of witty one-liners (albeit nothing here with belly laughs), the real star is Logan Lerman. Lerman's character is more than articulate enough to hold his own with the adults, his presence shapes the movie’s core. Lerman, known to an audience for his role in 3:10 to Yuma and soon to appear an in the sci-fi Gamer, looks like a young George Hamilton and is able to captivate one young lass along with all the story’s grownups.

Rated PG-13. 108 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online




Richard Eyre's
The Other Man
Opens September 11, 2009



Written By: Richard Eyre, Charles Wood, from Bernhard Schlink’s short story
Starring: Liam Neeson; Laura Linney; Antonio Banderas; and Romola Garai

Image Entertainment
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

“I do not like to do the same things in the same places,” states the title character to a man who seems intent on killing him. The same could be said for the actors, though one wonders why doing the same things is so bad. Think of Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler; think also of Laura Linney, one of the most attractive personalities in Hollywood, who performed in the role of one of the most famous first ladies in the U.S., Abigail Adams. Richard Eyre’s The Other Man puts both of these stars, whose breadth is well known, in a minor soap about a woman who loves two men. While The Other Man asks the question, “Can you love two (maybe more) people at the same time” (which would knock out the theory that romantic love is like a successful sperm cell whose contact with an ovum prevents all others from getting through).

Some of the movie is worth noting, particularly Haris Zambarloukos’s photography in Milan and Gemma Jackson’s production design within an exclusive restaurant. The film is based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink, about a man who has a poor relationship with his daughter, Abilgail (Romola Garai), is slow going, feeling stretched out by Stephen Warbeck’s soapy music.

The romantic moments between Lisa and the other man, Ralph (Antonio Banderas), are not the key element of the tale. Rather some drama is evoked by a chess game, both literal and figurative, between the cuckolded husband and the foreign lover—the latter presenting himself as a Casanova with a bespoke suit and an occupation that belies his image of material success. When Peter discovers love emails (love letters are passé nowadays) between his wife, Lisa (Laura Linney) and the other man, he, in effect, stalks Ralph by sending his own emails, pretending to be Lisa. Even adults learn the tricks of the Internet from the young.

Peter’s meeting with Ralph in Milan leads to a chess game in which Ralph, contrary to all common sense, reveals all about his affair with Lisa. A twist finds Laura Linney out of the action for most of the film, as the story concludes on an uninteresting reconciliation between father and daughter.

Rated R. 90 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Spike Lee's
Passing Strange
Opens Friday August 21, 2009

Written By: Spike Lee, Book and Lyrics by Stew with the collaboration of Heidi Rodewald
Starring: De’Adre Aziza; Daniel Breaker; Elsa Davis; Colman Domingo; Chad Goodridge; Rebecca Naomi Jones; and Stew

Sundance Selects
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

To get the negatives out of the way first… Passing Strange is a photographed play, one that Spike Lee has filmed, but which is not opened up cinematically. This limitation is acute especially considering that the Broadway play, like it off-Broadway origin, has virtually no set. There are no graphic looks at Black churches, the Amsterdam café scene receives no images—though the bright lights that illuminate the proceedings are impressive. The play received a Tony for Best Book of a Musical and was nominated for several other Tony's, Drama Desk, and other awards groups. As a movie, though, Passing Strange is less likely to garner awards. On Broadway, shows typically last for two hours or more. The movie version goes on without Broadway’s typical 20-minute intermission but at 135 minutes is still too long.

To repeat a criticism that one hears endlessly from patrons of Broadway musicals, “There’s nothing in the show that you can hum.” Whether this is a valid gripe is anybody’s guess: they don’t make new musicals the way Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe have done. Passing Strange has an abundance of rock-n-roll, twenty-five in all. I would challenge you to remember any of them a day after seeing the movie. Third, some of the characters play multiple persons, a technique not unknown on the legitimate stage though almost nonexistent in cinema. Colman Domingo plays Mr. Franklin, Joop and Mr. Venus; Chad Goodridge takes on the roles of Rev. Jones, Terry, Christophe and Hugo; while Rebecca Naomi Jones serves as Sherry, Renata and Desi.

Yet as in the words of one repeated song, “It’s all right.” It’s all right not so much because of Spike Lee’s direction (credit principally Matthew Libatique, the photographer) but because the ensemble on the stage of the New York’s Belasco Theater perform their roles with perfect timing, synchronizing their speech and their songs with one another as though parts of a Swiss watch. And remember that unlike the movies, stage performers have to memorize huge chunks of words to fill out a two-hour production, especially difficult for characters playing multiple roles; film actors may get along with just a couple of minutes of dialogue at a time.

In one of the two principal roles, Stew performs in the role of singing narrator, a Greek chorus if you will, moving the action forward with each song as he looks upon himself as Youth, a young man played by Daniel Breaker. In this semi-autobiographical tale that opens on Youth as a 14-year-old living in LA during the 1960s with his single mother (Elsa Davis), the young man faces an identity crisis before his time. He does not fit into the kind of world his mother wishes for him. He is not a believer, and what’s more cannot find his identity in a church that’s filled with sacred music. He believes-as did James Baldwin, whom Mr. Breaker resembles—that Europe is where it’s at. Traveling to Amsterdam during the 1970s for sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, he may have found himself at last. As he begins getting close to a girlfriend, he’s off again, this time to Berlin where he fits into a band of anarchists who spout Marxist clap-trap, but all but run home to their parents during Christmas. Determined to continue living in Europe, Youth ignores the pleas of his now-dying mother to return home.

The songs easily take up half the running time of the production, Stew belting forth lyrics that illustrate his looking back to his earlier days, and Daniel Breaker filling in with his own youthful, idealistic visions. “We Just Had Sex” is arguably the most delightful tune in the bunch, “May Day” the most political. Both Stew and Daniel Breaker are exceptional performers.

Ultimately this is a photographed play that must be greatly admired and respected more than enjoyed; but that’s just one critic’s opinion.

Unrated. 135 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online



Vicky Jenson's
Post Grad
Opens Friday, August 21, 2009


Written By: Kelly Fremon
Starring: Alexis Bledel; Catherine Reitman; Jane Lynch; Michael Keaton; Carol Burnett; Bobby Coleman; Zach Gilford; and Rodrigo Santoro

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

If Alexis Bledel is not the cutest actress of her generation in Hollywood, she comes pretty close—not quite up to Evan Rachel Wood or Amy Adams, but she certainly can be compared in appearance to Zoe Deschanel. She shares even Zoe’s expressive eyes, bubbly personality, but not Ms. Deschanel’s sense of irony. No matter. Bledel carries a movie that is so feather-light that it could be called Up, if that title were not already taken. Post Grad may be a sitcom at heart, but in these troubles economic times it resonates with “freelancers,” read “unemployed,” or “between jobs.” It should resonate especially with college grads who are frustrated that their four years of study created $100,000 in student loan debts which may take much longer to be paid off than they first thought.

Though Post Grad may evoke smiles from the young audience in its target range, it has no belly laughs, even given the fact that Michael Keaton plays the role of the understanding dad. Keaton's character is only understanding, however, when it comes to anything but his 22-year-old daughter’s romantic life.

The story finds Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) at her graduation ceremonies at the University of California at Irvine. Ryden is beaten out for the valedictory role by an aggressive young woman who believes she is entitled to start at the top. Ryden wants to work at a prestigious L.A. publishing company, so she rentis an apartment with the assumption that the job is sewed up, only to find that twenty others are being interviewed on the same day for the same gig. Rejected and dejected, she moves back home with her nutty family, which includes her luggage-store manager dad, Walter (Michael Keaton), her welcoming mother, Carmella (Jane Lynch), her weird little brother, Hunter (Bobby Coleman), and her grandmother, Maureen (Carol Burnett), who is preparing for her own funeral by pricing coffins. Ryden also has her lapdog-like best friend, Adam (Zach Gilford) who wants to be more than just a friend. But Adam's romantic interest is quashed when Ryden becomes infatuated with the next-door-neighbor, David Santiago (Rodrigo Santoro), a much older Brazilian who has been trying unsuccessfully to produce commercials.

Director Vicky Jenson moves the plot along at almost breakneck speed, fit for the attention-deficit crowd that will form the bulk of the audience. The one embarrassing role is inhabited by Carol Burnett, the stereotypical hip grandma, who comes out with aphorisms like “condoms are your best friend.” As the kid brother, Bobby Coleman plays a character who can be a pain in the butt, but who will hopefully outgrow his weirdness.

Post Grad, then, is an antidote if your movies diet is filled with indies. It’s nicely photographed by Charles Minsky with an ending that’s predictable and yet not at all credible.

Rated PG-13. 89 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


Sam Garbarski's
The Raveski Tango
Opens Friday, September 11, 2009

Written By: Philippe Blasband, Sam Garbarski
Starring: Natan Cogan; Hippolyte Giradot; Ishai Golan; Mosko Alkalai; and Daniel Mesguich

Menemsha Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Before my old nabe, Boro Park, Brooklyn, became the home of a great many ultra-religious Hasidim, the vicinity housed a mostly Jewish population of all stripes. Orthodox lived side by side with Reform, Conservatives brushed shoulders with secular. Most secular Jews at the time, though, identified themselves as Reform, attending synagogue on High Holy Days but not likely to keep Kosher households. We all had a grounding in the rituals of Judaism. These themes of divisions within the Jewish community and to an extent between Jews and those of other faiths, is given a touching treatment in Sam Garbarski’s The Rashevski Tango. The title comes from a line from a departed grandmother who once said that to be happy you’ve got to dance the tango.

Three generations of a Belgian family are considered in the film, sometimes in separate segments as though each were part of a different film, other times as they interact with one another. One generation is represented by twenty-something Nina (Tania Gabarski), who is courted by a gentile lawyer, Antoine (Hippolyte Giradot), who despite a couple of rolls in the hay is given little chance for a permanent union by a woman who wants a Jewish husband. Ric (Rudi Rosenberg), a grandson of Rosa whose funeral the clan attended, was once a soldier in the Israeli army but is now in love with Khadija (Selma Kouchy), a Muslim. The middle generation finds Simon (Michel Jonasz) as a shoe salesman whose wife Isabelle (Ludmila Mikael) is Gentile. The departed Rosa’s former husband had left his family to become an Orthodox rabbi in Israel; he refuses to return to Begium. As old Dolfo, Natan Cogan frames the production as a man who does not want to talk about “the camps” and whose emotional acceptance of those whose religious grounding is different from his own presumably mimics the writer-director’s own views.

Essentially, Garbarski, (whose 2007 film Irina Palm 2007 tells the story of a fifty-year-old widow who is still faithful to her departed husband and who needs money to pay for treatment for her sick grandson), patiently turns out his characters who in one way or another deal with the question, “Who is a Jew?” The answer is a complex one. For example, when the fortyish lawyer goes to a liberal rabbi to convert and thereby be acceptable to his 27-year-old would-by lover, he is told that Orthodox Jewry would not recognize the conversion. Strangely enough, he opts to reject Reform Judaism in favor of converting with an Orthodox rabbi, while Nina is herself not recognized as Jewish since only her father was born into that faith.

The Rashevski Tango will be considered depressing by some viewers with all its talk, even by people with decades of life to go, about where they want to be buried or even whether they would accept cremation. There are passages of warm humor to counter the sadness, all put together by director Garbarski in a neat Belgian package with a sentimental twist at the very conclusion.

Unrated. 100 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Hirokazu Kore-eda's
Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo)
Opens Friday, August 28, 2009


Written By: Hirokazu Kore-eda from his original story
Starring: Hiroshi Abe; Yui Natsukawa; You; Kazuya Takahashi; Shohei Tanaka; Kirin Kiki; and Yoshio Harada

IFC Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Jackie Mason once asked his audience, “When does a Jewish fetus become a human being?” Without waiting for an answer he responded, “When he graduates from medical school.”

Jewish tradition considers the practice of medicine to be the highest calling for a human being. A doctor saves lives while supporting his or her family well. Judging by Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking, at least one elderly Japanese fellow would agree. When this father notes that one of his sons became a doctor while the other is floundering around in the unsteady industry of art restoration, preferences become pronounced, sibling rivalry is introduced, and family happiness turns to dysfunction.

Mr. Kore-eda, who wrote the screenplay from his original story, unfolds a gentle drama of family reunion, one lasting just twenty-four hours and all taking place within the home of an aging retired physician, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), who is neither happy in his newly-found leisure nor pleased by the marriage of his 40-something son, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe). Wanting to keep his unemployment status from the family, Ryota makes a rare visit to the patriarchal household, bringing his wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa) and his ten-year-old stepson (Shohei Tanaka). Yukari is none too comfortable during the visit, receiving a cold shoulder from her husband’s father, who believes that his handsome son did not have to “settle” for a widow, and from her mother-in-law, Tishiko (Kirin Kiki), who is disappointed that the couple have not produced a grandchild for her. As Tishiko peels vegetables in the kitchen with the help of her high-spirited daughter, Chinami (pop-star You), we in the audience get the impression that the brief get-together will be joyous, or at the very least banal. But when the 68-year-old old Kyohei summons up the memory of his other son, Junpei, a doctor who drowned fifteen years earlier, and when Kyohei’s wife invites a plump 25-year-old who was the cause of Junpei's death when Junpei tried to rescue him from drowning, the stage is set for harsh recriminations.

To say that director Kor-eda never allows his character to step over the border into melodrama would be the day’s leading understatement. The film is more Chekhov than Jerry Bruckheimer, seeking to cast a spell over us in the audience. This is not to say that the film is for everyone, as it’s the polar opposite of Terminator type films. Those who will most appreciate Kore-eda’s work might be the people among us who have had their own experiences with family dysfunction (don’t bother raising your hand if you meet this requirement). Just imagine what Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr. (Home for the Holidays) would do with the screenplay and with a director like Jodie Foster—which may be, by the way, why many Japanese prefer Hollywood movies to works of their own arty directors.

For his part Kirokazu Kore-eda has done bolder family dramas like Nobody Knows (a reckless mother movies into a small apartment with her 12-year-old son and the boy’s siblings hidden in her luggage), and After Life (dead people spend a week with dead counselors who help each of them to carry a memory through eternity).

Theater scholars will note that if Still Walking were on the stage, the story would meet the Aristotelian requirements: a single location, a single day, a single plot.

Photographer Yutaka Yamazaki should get money from the Yokohama Tourist Department for affording us a crisp, picture-perfect view of Japan’s leading harbor town.

The film’s conclusion is a well-placed commentary of the life cycle. Parents die, new children are born, and sometimes a dead person can come back to Japan as a butterfly.

Unrated. 114 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


Ang Lee's
Taking Woodstock
Opens August 26, 2009


Written By: James Schamus, from Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte’s book Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concrt, and a Life

Starring: Demetri Martin; Dan Fogler; Henry Goodman; Jonathan Groff; Eugene Levy; Jeffrey Dean Morgan; Imelda Staunton; Emile Hirsch; and Liev Schreiber

Focus Features
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Though not the grooviest display of the seminal 1969 weekend that featured a half million participants frolicking at a muddy concert, Taking Woodstock is not a bummer either. Nor can we call this film a departure for Ang Lee, whose Brokeback Mountain dealt with the homosexual relationship of two cowboys, and whose The Ice Storm dealt with casual sex in a Connecticut suburb. Still it’s difficult to say that the sexual themes in those films, both dealing with personal stories on a small plane, is much like the coming-out-of-closet aspect of Taking Woodstock. After all the Woodstock concert, which actually took place in New York’s Catskill Mountain town of White Lake, was huge. Ang Lee’s movie does attempt to bring out the idea of the weekend’s dimensions, but at most he somehow relies on a couple of hundred extras to afford the viewer the dimensions of the event.

Taking Woodstock is primarily a personal story, revolving around the relationships of a young gay man who works as an interior designer in New York’s Greenwich Village, but travels to White Lake to try to save his parents’ crumbling resort, El Monaco, from foreclosure. As Elliot Teichberg, Demitry Martin, known to his cable followers as a comedian, carries the project on his back, or more accurately on his long (prosthetic?) nose. His mother, Sonia Teichberg (Imelda Staunton), had left Europe during the era of National Socialism and worries that everyone around her—in one instance the banker holding the mortgage-- is persecuting her for being Jewish. His dad, Jake (Henry Goodman—who like Imelda Staunton is a British actor), puts up with his wife’s rages, a quiet fellow whose laid-back appearance belies his torment.

When Elliot, with the help of producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), organizes a music and arts festival with the hope of taking in enough money to pay off the mortgage, he had no idea how many hippies would turn up after landowner-neighbor Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) rents out his 600-acre dairy farm. Nor did it hurt to have the services of ex-Marine Vilma (Liev Schreiber), dressed in drag, to act as security, driving off a couple of the local mobsters who demanded protection money.

This Focus Features production is anything but focused, a sprawling enterprise that might remind cinephiles of the works of Robert Altman. One incident follows another. In one key scene, Elliott, who is transformed by the experience of this single weekend, samples acid from two stoned hippies (Paul Dano and Kelli Garner), a trip that turns the movie screen into a psychedelic vision.

A major problem is that Demetri Martin, somewhat like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, looks so constipated even when he publicly comes out of the closet by kissing a construction worker, the scene never becomes electric. The concert itself looks mostly like a side piece, an excuse for youths to tell their parents that they were going to a concert when actually they sought a weekend of nudity, sex and drugs.

Ultimately, Taking Woodstock is a trip down memory lane commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the August 1969 concert. Watching the movie may not seem as exciting as being there, but then again we’re sitting in comfortable air conditioned surroundings, most of us leaving the theater nice and clean.

Rated R. 121 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


Robert Schwentke's
The Time Traveler's Wife
Opens August 14, 2009

Written By: Bruce Joel Rubin from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel

Starring: Eric Bana; Rachel McAdams; Ron Livingston; Arliss Howard; Alex Ferris; Michelle Nolden; Stephen Tobolowsky; and Brooklynn Proulx.

New Line Cinema/Warner Bros
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

When Frank Sinatra sings “Gee, it’s great to be traveling,” his listeners are doubtless nodding their heads.Then again, they say no matter where you are, you are always with yourself—which can make for disappointing moments while you’re in another country. The husband in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Henry (Eric Bana), is a case study of being always with himself when he travels, a fate which makes him wonder why he can turn up anywhere at any time even though he never bought an airline ticket. His is a fate that can make for cheap tourism, but since he cannot control his trips, and since he arrives at his destinations without clothes or money, you can’t blame him for wanting to be a stay-at-home fellow.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is less within the sci-fi genre than it is a three-hanky chick-flick. That’s not a bad thing, especially if the director and writer were to wink at the audience, but Mr. Schwentke sends the charming couple into their fragile lives without more than a dollop of humor. “I met her father, and he’s a Republican and a hunter,” remarks Henry to his alcoholic dad, Richard De Tamble (Arliss Howard)—to which dad makes a predictably sour face.

The movie opens with a bang as six-year-old Henry, sitting in the back seat of the car driven by his opera-singing mother (Michelle Nolden), is involved in a crash that kills his mother. He is saved because just at the instant of impact he is transported to a time a few minutes earlier, where he meets himself as a thirty-something man who assures the kid that everything will turn out OK. Ultimately Henry’s key relationship is not with his mother or his younger self but with the love of his life, Clare (Rachel McAdams), whom he meets in the library where Henry works. But before you can say “Shazam,” Henry is transported to a meadow where he attempts to tell Clare, now six years old (Brooklynn Proulx), that he’s a friend. Little does little Clare know that marriage with the naked man (Henry time travels without clothes) is inevitable.

Time travel is used not so much for supernatural effects than as a model describing a love affair that must be strong enough to allow its survival while the man of the house is seldom at home. The chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana is there, all right, and their characters do not have to worry about money since Henry can, and does, win a 5 million dollar lottery by cheating. But their love is so powerful that Henry would do anything to be normal and not subject to a genetic anomaly that will work its way through the next generation, should he and his wife have a child.

Florian Ballhaus’s photography in Toronto across various seasons is picture-pretty, and McAdams and Bana are about as handsome a couple as we can expect in Hollywood movies. The film does not make much sense, even if we in the audience suspend disbelief, and there are moments of unintentional laughter in a work that is sadly lacking in whimsy or internal logic. The Time Traveler’s Wife, both as Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling novel and now a Warner Bros./New Line release, should make a big hit with women, and might just appeal to those men who happened to like Julie & Julia as well.

Rated PG-13. 107 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


 


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