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Paul Weitz's
Admission
Opens Friday, March 22, 2013

Focus Features

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Screenwriter: Karen Croner, from Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel

Starring: Tiny Fey, Paul Rudd, Wallace Shawn, Gloria Reuben, Lily Tomlin, Nat Wolff

IFC Midnight

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Look at the large number of ads in New York subway cars touting for-profit colleges, that are so eager for students to apply that some of them accept high-school dropouts, promising to award two-year Associates degrees together with GED’s. You’ve got to appreciate those traditional colleges that are ranked so highly that some accept eight percent of applicants of even less. Considering the cost of out-of-town colleges nowadays, figure $50,000 per year when you include books and dorm fees, it’s amazing that the so-called Ivies can attract so many applications. One such school is Princeton, which is generally considered among the top three, the others being Harvard and Yale. At Princeton—where no less a figure than Albert Einstein once taught—applicants are so anxious that they wait by their mailboxes when letters of acceptance, rejection and waiting list are expected. Paul Weitz’s movie Admission, distributed by Focus Features which itself is highly selective of movies it buys, takes place in an around Princeton, New Jersey and could serve as a product placement for the school, as if Princeton really needs the advertising!

Director Weitz, whose Little Fockers and American Pie are hilariously vulgar comedies, instead helms “Admission” as a dramedy, a combination of comedy and drama that has some elements of soap opera, plus the kinds of laughs that are not broad but subtle. The film could be of particular interest to those of us who have been fortunate enough to attend academic institutions not located on the second floor of a New York office building, but rather on the rolling hills of academia—giving its students the opportunity to live away from their parents for four years and perhaps find lasting friendship, contacts for future employment, and maybe a smidgen of learning for its own sake.

Tina Fey, known to all of us for her spot-on imitations of Sarah Palin, stars as an admissions officer, one presumably gifted for selecting the cream of the crop (unlike John McCain). She does her comic shtick, of course, recognizable to all of us who have seen her Michael McCullers’s Baby Mama where she plays the part of a career woman who hires a working-class woman for a surrogate pregnancy, and of course on Saturday Night Live, where she nails Sarah Palin’s look and accent but not the latter’s ability to see Russia from her window.

In Admission, the straight-laced Portia Nathan (Tiny Fey), who keeps a scrupulously clean desk aided by a can of compressed air, competes with Corinne (Gloria Reuben) to replace Clarence (Wallace Shawn) as Dean of Admissions upon the latter’s imminent retirement. She meets John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a Dartmouth graduate who now runs a progressive high school on a farm and is pushing to get his prize student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) into Princeton. Her attraction to Pressman obviously prejudices Portia into lobbying for Jeremiah’s candidacy, especially since she (Portia) is on the rebound after being dumped by her long-term boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen), an English literature professor.

Further, Portia has met up with Susannah (Lily Tomlin), a free-spirited mom who is portrayed stereotypically as a feminist who believes that women should not depend on their mothers but should be independent and liberated as she is.

Tina Fey anchors the movie as a woman who runs the emotional gamut from crying (when her boyfriend leaves her) to exhilaration (when she finds common cause with Clarence). Clever side roles are on exhibit by Travaris Spears as Nelson, a sixth-grader in Pressman’s school whom Pressman adopted when traveling in Uganda, an ensemble of students in Pressman’s school who have adopted the leftist line about institutions that they consider racist, sexist and homophobic, and Princeton University itself, which comes across as the kind of elite institution that Republicans are supposed to dislike but do not. Admission succeeds well in bridging the gaps from comedy to drama with aplomb, deserving advanced placement on your movie-going schedule.

Rated PG-13. 117 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



 

Cristian Mungiu's
Beyond The Hills (Dupa dealuri)
Opens Friday, March 8, 2013

Screenwriter: Cristian Mungiu, Inspired by Tatiana Niculescu Bran’s nonfiction novels

Starring Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta, Dana Tapalaga

Sundance Selects

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

In the production notes, writer-director Cristian Mungiu states that his over-riding theme in creating Beyond the Hills is to show the indifference of Romanian society. The Eastern Orthodox Church, which is on display in perhaps its least flamboyant location and design, declares that there are 464 sins of which humankind may be guilty. The director, howeever, believes that the greatest sin of all, indifference, is not even mentioned. He is determined to prove this with his film. Nonetheless, based on the decisions—some irrational, others caring—of the priest, whose orders are followed strictly by the nuns under his command in a remote chapel—Mungiu’s theme does not come across as clearly as he might have liked. Nor do we get the idea that the chapel is Romanian society writ small. The crazed woman who is taken under the church’s wing may have received improper treatment by the religious order One may think that some alternative treatment could have been better for her, one not within the rigid framework of the order, but indifference is not on display.

Mungiu, whose more interesting 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days highlights the cruelty of a Romanian society that mandates a death sentence for performing abortions, showing the hoops through which a woman with a five-months’ pregnancy must jump, here graphically indulges another woman’s virtually operatic melancholy. Alina (Cristina Flutur), a character whose name reflects that of the director’s real-life sister Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (who is not coincidentally a major Romanian political analyst), has been morose ever since her orphanage roommate Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), with whom she implicitly enjoyed a Sapphic affection, left her in the lurch by hitching up with a remote church as a nun. Alina left the orphanage and her foster parents for a job in Germany as a waitress in a bar but has returned to try to convince her best friend to shed her black, vampiric garb and return with her to the West. But the heavily bearded priest known as Papa or Father (Valeriu Andriuta) refuses to allow even a short respite because, he states, the West has lost its spiritual soul—men marrying men, women marrying women, etc., insisting that without God, people will never find peace. He may have a point since Alina, believed by the priest and the nuns to have found the Devil instead, has frequent bouts of violent behavior against the folks who have cared enough about her to let her remain for a while as a guest.

Visuals are often reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman, featuring the nuns in their black attire pacing about the grounds doing menial tasks and without the benefits of running water or electricity. They look like refugees from The Seventh Seal or, given the frosty winter weather perhaps Winter Light. Photographer Oleg Mutu bathes the screen in a big chill of blues and browns, the closeups and long takes of the characters showing a director’s skillful attention detail right down to the muddy brown splotch that splashes across the windshield of a van in the final moments.

The easiest impression one may get from the depictions of the chapel is of a zombie-like crew of black-robed women slavishly following the directives of a strict, but not unkind paterfamilias. But Mungiu is not making a facile criticism of religion as it is organized in a post-Ceaucecu Romania since, after all, the members of the hierarchy have the best of intentions. Perhaps they could have done other than tie up the frequently violent Alina, psychologically harmed by her abandonment to an orphanage (though she was transferred to caring foster parents) and more important by her perceived jilting from her bosom friend.

While Mungiu—who won the prize at Cannes for Best Screenplay at Cannes and whose film was shortlisted for a Best Foreign Movie Oscar—is intent on building up to Alina’s outbursts by spending considerable time depicting the daily lives of the faithful, he could have cut a half hour from the mundane dialogue to bring the film in at two hours. Beyond the Hills is an arty version of The Exorcist, downplaying the pea soup in favor of the only cautiously melodramatic. Commercial prospect appear not particularly optimistic but the two and one-hour film bears much to reward the patient, the educated, and the tolerant. Ensemble acting is first-rate for a film that was inspired by an actual exorcism that took place in 2005 and described in the oxymoronic non-fiction novel of Tatiana Niculescu Bran, In Tara lui Dumnezeu.

Unrated. 152 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



 


Pablo Berger's
Blancanieves
Opens Friday, March 29, 2013

Screenwriter: Pablo Berger

Cast: Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Inma Cuesta, Ángela Molina, Pere Ponce, Macarena García, Sofía Oria, José Maria Pou, Ramón Barea, Emilio Gavira

The Cohen Group

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

How do you punish a wicked stepmother? Why, give her the silent treatment of course. To put everyone on an equal footing, however, director Pablo Berger, (whose Torremolinos 73 tells the story of an encyclopedia salesman and his wife who make an adult movie), gives everyone the silent treatment. Perhaps this is because Blancanieves is a silent film, paying homage to the 1920s silent pics in Europe, just as The Artist does likewise for Hollywood’s age of silents. Yet another reimagining of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White, Blancanieves takes part in Southern Spain in Seville during the late 1920s, giving the era a romantic look despite the four deaths that take place in this story—two through violence, another pair done in not too pleasantly either. Oh, and there is one chicken and a temporary death by the heroine.

Much of this version is set in the bullring where matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) gets gored moments after saluting his pregnant wife Carmen (Inma Ciesta) in the stands. Distracted by the flash of a camera, he is sent severely wounded to a hospital while his lovely wife dies agonizingly in childbirth. You can almost not blame him for rejecting his daughter, Carmencita (Sofía Oria) while his fame and riches motivate his nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdú) to snuggle up to him and gain an introduction to high society upon their marriage. When Carmencita’s grandmother and caretaker (Angela Molina) dies while showing off her flamenco steps, Encarna takes Carmencita to live in a sumptuous manor, making her a hewer of wood and drawer of water despite the presence of servants. Banning her from the second floor where the wheelchair-bound father wastes away, Encarna makes her stepdaughter’s life hell.

When Carmencita (Macarena García) is a teen, she escapes an attempt on her life and is she is informally adopted by a troupe of dwarfs, i.e. 7 enanitos, who teach her to fight bulls while her stepmother camps it up back at the finca by treating her chauffer and lover like a dog.

Blancanieves is a bold thrust into the Snow White legend, staying true to the outlines of the Grimm Brothers’ violent fairy tale though substituting a pool for the mirror mirror on the wall and taking other liberties. The result is an entertaining, thoroughly professional work, mixing dark humor with moments of levity, the atmosphere spirited by a dizzying array of music highlighting paso doble for the bull ring and flamenco sounds that allow various members of the cast spontaneously to strut their stuff. In the starring role as chief villain, Maribel Verdú has an impressive acting résumé including some favorite films of mine, Y tu mamá también and Goya in Bordeaux.

Blancanieves was Spain’s entry into the U.S. Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film (though the language is entirely on title cards). It opens in the U.S. in March 2013 and will be eligible for a host of awards this year from groups of critics (such as from the prestigious New York Film Critics Online) with an emphasis on the use of music.

Rated PG-13. 104 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


 


Makinov's
Come Out and Play
Opens Friday, March 22, 2013

Screenwriter: Makinov from Juan José Plans’s novel El juego de los niños

Starring: Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Vinessa Shaw

Cinedigm

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Come Out and Play is a remake of the 1976 Spanish movie Who Can Kill a Child? (which has all of one review on rottentomatoes.com). Though the film is virtually without plot, it can be compared with three works of far more complexity. One such work is Tennessee Williams’s play Suddenly Last Summer, made by Joseph L. Mankiewicz into a movie in 1960 starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn, one which put gave the great playwright membership in the hearts of horror mavens. The play and movie are about a gay man who uses his sexy cousin to draw out young men in the Spanish town of Cabeza de Lobo whereupon he would proposition them, offering money, which some accepted. But when the Spanish boys followed the young man, Sebastian Venable, he killed him and ate their flesh, which, when witnessed by Sebastian’s cousin caused her to go insane and to become a candidate for lobotomy. Another is William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, made into a movie by Peter Brooks in 1963, about a group of boys who, absent all adults, turn savage against one another. In a more tangential way, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds features the title characters as a murderous lot that swarm around human beings and peck at them unmercifully.

No, Makinov is no Williams or Hitchcock or Brooks: in fact he’s a weird fellow who sold this, his first movie, to Cinedigm after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness. Makinov is a Belarus-born director who keeps his anonymity by wearing a bag on his head and who proclaims ins his manifesto that the world is full of pain, we’re all going to die, so isn’t it silly to look at Facebook and at movies about heroes who save the world? In the film’s final credits, Makinov dedicates Come Out and Play to “the martyrs of Stalingrad.”

The story, such as it is, features a young couple, Beth (Vinessa Shaw) and Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who must have ignored U.S. State Department advisories about Mexico, to wit: “Crime in Mexico continues to occur at a high rate and is frequently violent.” Beth, who is seven months’ pregnant, and Francis, her husband, are looking for a remote, romantic getaway, one that lands them on an island (filmed in Mexico’s Holbox Island, known for birding and whale watching) but one that is anything but far from the madding crowd). They’re clueless, not really knowing how to get there, though they rent a motorboat and are unfortunately not lost. They see a bunch of kids swimming and horsing around, but find that the inner parts of the land are without human population, until they come upon an old man who is pummeled to death by a band of kids—murdered with knives, rocks, canes, and fists.

Seeking to leave this paradise as quickly as they can, they find their exit barred by large groups of young boys and girls, who in some scenes stand completely still in a football-like formation as though they are human remakes of Hitchcock’s ravenous birds. After witnessing a few more murders, Beth and Francis wonder whether they will be able to live another day, their romantic adventure complicated even more by Beth’s going into labor in a shack which they used to keep the little monsters at bay.

Makinov knows how to direct kids, a difficult job when dealing with experienced child actors, even more so when directing a bunch of non-professional extras rented out by their parents on Holbox Island. They know how to giggle (when stabbing and bludgeoning adults) and to look deadly serious (when threatening forms of life at least a decade older than they). One mystery is why they let a native woman alone, the only adult to escape the mayhem. Vinessa Shaw and Ebon Moss-Bacharach are solid in their roles of innocents abroad, enjoying a reasonable chemistry. Given the graphic, bloody activities to which they and we bear witness, Come Out and Play makes for a decent enough picture targeted to the appropriate horror demos.

Come Out and Play is in English and in Spanish with easy to read English titles. The Spanish edition of Juan José Plans’s novel El juego de los niños, is available at Amazon.com.

Makinov’s manifesto can be viewed at http://youtube.com/watch?v=LYcoVP-pmcw. You may find it scarier than the movie.

Unrated. 105 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


 



Robert Redford's
The Company You Keep
Opens Friday April 5, 2013

Screenwriter: Lem Dobbs, from Neil Gordon’s novel

Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Sam Elliott


Sony Pictures Classics

Reviewed by Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes

At one point early in the film, eleven-year-old Isabel (Jacqueline Evancho) says to her dad, Jim Grant (Robert Redford), “You look weird!” I should look so weird at 76. Though no longer appearing the swashbuckler of his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid days, Redford still has looks to add to his charisma, putting him in the company of such handsome septuagenarians as Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda. What’s more he inhabits his latest role with authenticity in a movie that acts as political thriller, but more importantly as a family drama of a man who stands to lose everything—his law practice and especially his daughter if he is arrested by the FBI. Though “political thriller” puts one in the mind of the Jason Bourne series, The Company You Keep is far less melodramatic, at times overly talky, but providing insight into both what it was like to be in a radical organization in the sixties and early seventies and what happens when the once dashing people, out to change the world, have settled into prosaic professions.

The Company You Keep will draw its audience largely from aging hippies but also from older conservatives who recall the days of anti-Vietnamese wars protests with dismay. Hopefully the film will entice the younger crowd as well, people who have heard only vaguely about the time that author Charles A. Reich called The Greening of America. There are no folk songs even in the dollops of archival films—no Pete Seeger or the Weavers or the mystical music of Ravi Shankar (which would have added to the story’s color), since scripter Lem Dobbs, adapting Neil Gordon’s novel of the same name (available for $8.51 at Amazon.com) is more interested in exhibiting the tensions between family loyalties and political idealism.

The principal characters are Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young, eager reporter with an Albany, New York newspaper run by Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci), and Jim Grant (Robert Redford), the former born after the time the country gave up its greenish tones for the more realistic activities of making a living. The opening scene shows promise of physical action during the arrest of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), a fugitive on the run for the years following a bank robbery by the radical Weather Underground which resulted in the murder of the guard. Aside from a chase toward the conclusion of the story, most of the action is the give-and-take between Ben Shepard and a host of characters with some knowledge or involvement in that robbery.

After Shepard’s research results in a blockbuster story that Jim Grant, a lawyer who still fights the good fight by taking many pro bono cases, was in reality a member of the Weather Underground now with a false identity. Grant must transfer his daughter Isabel (17 years old in the book, 11 years old here) to the custody of his brother, Daniel Sloan (Chris Cooper) and go on the run. During those tension-filled days and weeks he meets with some of the former revolutionaries including Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), a professor at the University of Michigan who still bears the soul of a firebrand as he lectures on Marx and assigns Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth; with Donal Fitzgerald (Nick Nolte), now running a lumber business who gives him a pad in which to crash; and especially Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), now living with MacMcleod (Sam Elliott), who is just one of the six lovers that have come and gone. Meanwhile FBI Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) barks orders to his men as they intercept a cell phone call and give chase to one of the last of the people wanted for murder.

Redford provides the multi-tasking role of both principal performer and director, with Lem Dobbs turning in an intelligent, literate screenplay but one which could drive away those who think that Bruce Willis is the alpha and omega of thrillers. Dobbs’s The Limey, which he penned in 1999, deals with Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 film The Limey, about a dangerous Brit who go to L.A. to find the man responsible for his daughter’s death. For better or worse, The Company You Keep lacks the tension created by Soderbergh but provides an intelligent look at what happens to a person whose family life is disrupted, at first by having to adopt out his older daughter Rebecca (Brit Marling) to a police chief (Brendan Gleeson) and is now faced with spending the rest of his life in jail and losing his eleven-year-old. Shia LaBeouf is an excellent casting choice, a journalist who is not a sympathetic character, but whose ambition requires him to discover truth regardless of how such information would break families asunder.

Rated R. 125 Minutes. (c) Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online




Peter Webber's
Emperor
Opens Friday March 8, 2013

Screenwriter: Vera Blasi, David Klass

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew Fox, Eriko Hatsune

Roadside Attractions

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

When General Douglas MacArthur was fired by President Harry S. Truman in 1951, the U.S. was split. Some agreed with the general that more aggressive actions should be taken during the Korean War, including what MacArthur wanted, the bombing of Manchuria. Others in our country—including many senior officials in government who were presumably more in the know about the potential for World War III if MacArthur’s plans were approved—were relived at his dismissal. Who revered MacArthur the most? The 69% of Americans who liked the man’s aggressiveness, some of whom burned Truman in effigy? No. Surprisingly, it was the Japanese—who lined the route to Haneda airport in April of 1951 to give the great man a tearful goodbye.

The Japanese? Surprisingly enough, the people who launched brutal warfare against the U.S. for four years practically worshipped the man just as they had bowed to the semi-divine Emperor Hirohito because MacArthur, rather than ask President Truman to string the monarch up for his role in allegedly pushing for the Pearl Harbor attack, recommended that he not be tried as a war criminal. Fearing renewed warfare and a communist revolution should Hirohito be treated like Prime Minister Hideki Tojo—who was hanged as a war criminal—MacArthur convinced our president to let the man live, even thrive, seeking his help to rebuild Japan. As a result of this kid-gloves treatment during the American occupation of the defeated nation, Japan is among our most dedicated allies.

Who was behind MacArthur’s decision to take things easy with the emperor? That’s the aim of Peter Webber in directing Emperor, partly a romance because that’s what brings in box office, and because the love of a Japanese woman affected the beliefs of one of MacArthur’s chief advisers in 1945. Emperor is, most of all, a look not so much at MacArthur as it is a partly fictionalized view of General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) who, with his granite bearing in this bit of cinematic historical fiction looks as though he had just arrived from the set of Mad Men and had zipped down to New Zealand to take part in this pic.

Director Peter Webber, whose Girl with a Pearl Earring takes a look at a young peasant maid who became a model for Johannes Vermeer, is strangely enough in his métier again despite the differences between this film and the one about a 17th Century artist, since both societies had been given over to repression. Vermeer and the maid feared even touching their hands together, an act that in their day could mean only that the woman is cheap. Emperor Hirohito’s society was so repressed that shaking his hand would be an unpardonable sin, considering that even looking him in the eye would be considered sacrilege.

When compared with events in Webber’s depiction of 17th Century paintings, Emperor is virtually current events as the story unfolds as recently as 1945, just after Japan’s agreement to surrender or, as the title character would say, “to accept the intolerable.” General MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones), knowing that General Fellers had good reason to love Japan, assigned him the job of researching Hirohito’s role in starting the war. It’s not enough, mused he—or rather the voters in the U.S. thought—that the emperor urged surrender. If it could be shown that he was instrumental in ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor, he could be indicted as a war criminal and probably hanged.

Fellers, not realizing that MacArthur had no intention of stringing up the emperor because of the blowback such a drastic policy would bring, spends most of the movie using the ten-day period to interview higher-ups who might know of the emperor’s intentions, but not without spending a good part of the assignment day-dreaming about his relationship with Aya (Eriko Hatsune), whom he met in a U.S. college. Pursuing the lass in Japan in 1940 while war clouds were ascending, he is put off by her resistance to him despite their obvious attraction, because her father had advised her not to marry an American. When he is not dreaming of his loved one, having assigned an assistant to look for her, he spends time getting beaten up when strangely enough he had been patronizing a local bar for noodle soup and alcohol or having rocks thrown at him in the street by some young delinquents. Ultimately, what we already know from our history class results in the exoneration of Hirohito and the entire staff at the Tokyo Palace, but Fellers is more interested in finding the love of his life.

The acting is on the stiff side, perhaps because Japan at the time (before it was Americanized with baseball and Mickey D’s) was a stiff place, though its custom of bowing rather than shaking hands is to this day an advantage in warding off potential colds and flu allowing its residents instead to succumb of stomach problems from its raw fish diet. Though Tommy Lee Jones is given prime visuals in the ads, this movie belongs to Matthew Fox, heretofore known principally for TV series but impressively enough in Pete Travis’s 2008 movie Vantage Point, about the attempted assassination of an American president told from different points of view. Director Webber is concerned equally with the love story as with the politics of occupation in its first year, and in that former ambition largely succeeds in developing as much chemistry as a Japanese woman in real life might allow at the time, and in the latter does get inside the heads of the higher-ups. We see that MacArthur is using his job of Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces as a steppingstone to the presidency, an ambition ultimately foiled when he got too much enamored with war games during the Korean police action. The film does provide some political conflict points that might make us think of what our 16th president went through to get his 13th Amendment passed in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, but then of course handsome but stiff Matthew Fox is no Daniel Day-Lewis.

Rated PG-13. 106 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Sally Potter's
Ginger & Rosa
Opens Friday, March 15, 2013

Screenwriter: Sally Potter

Starring: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Jodhi May, Annette Bening, Andrew Hawley

A24

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Awards season’s starting early. Already an incisive performance by 14-year-old Elle Fanning (13 when she performed in Ginger & Rosa and 10 when her career began) may be already talked about by organizations that give best-actress accolades. In a film that seems designed to capture all of Ms. Fanning’s talents, Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa could not be more fitting. Conveying emotions from adolescent giggles to more mature depression and tears, Fanning anchors a movie in which Ginger appears to matured overnight when she feels betrayed by her best friend.

And who wouldn’t be best friends - both were born in London on the same day in 1945 in the shadow of the Hiroshima bomb. The film is set in 1962, the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a news item with repercussions that could affect the entire Western world. President Kennedy provocatively tells Chairman Khruschev that a nuclear attack against any country in the Western Hemisphere would be considered an attack by the Soviet Union and would be met with full retaliation.

While seventeen-year-olds are not generally avid followers of current events, Ginger (Ella Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) are fearful enough of a nuclear holocaust that they have joined street demonstrations against the bomb—though one wonders how a bunch of young people being busted on a London street would have the slightest impact on politicians. Ginger shows her sensitivity to world politics and later to her friendship with Rosa through her poetry. Rosa, not as much of a peace activist as her friend, is more involved with teaching Ginger how to kiss. They laugh and giggle and show adolescence to be the best years of one’s life…that is, until a rash act by one leads to torment and tears and a plea for forgiveness.

The movie is ably supported by a crack ensemble cast, particularly by Alessandro Nivola in the role of Roland, Ginger’s young dad, a man who had married Natalie (Christina Hendricks) when both were teens and who have now separated, leaving Ginger adrift. If you overlook his hostile treatment of his pretty wife (Christina Hendricks), he’s the kind of fellow many of us would like to have as a dad, i.e. those of us on the left politically. He spent time in jail as a conscientious objector (though one must dig deep into philosophy to justify objecting to fighting Hitler). He states that the afterlife is a superstition and that one must live fully now. His relationship with his daughter Ginger is terrific, taking her and her best friend on a roller coaster ride, understanding enough to make her want to move out of her mother’s home and into her dad’s. Oh yes, you’ll also have to overlook his sexual relationship with Rosa, who at seventeen is within the age of consent in Britain. Without that, though, all you’d have in this picture is the friendliness of two giggly girls. The betrayal is a needed factor to rounding out the quality of the film.

Annette Bening is great as Bella, a feminist who sets up a relationship with the family. Her sharp comments, such as those against calling a female poet a poetess and her insistence on exactness in language makes her the sort you’d want (or hate) as an English teacher. Timothy Spall as Mark and Oliver Platt as Mark Two, a gay couple friendly with the family, add both humor and good advice to the folks. Sally Potter, the directoress (oops) doesn’t approach the magnificence of her 1992 movie Orlando, about a nobleman ordered by Queen Elizabeth I to stay young forever, but who knows? Elle Fanning may become the next Tilda Swinton.

Rated PG-13. 89 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Craig Rosebraugh's
Greedy Lying Bastards
Friday, March 8, 2013

Screenwriter: Craig Rosebraugh, Patrick Gambuti, Jr.

One Earth Productions

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

In his new book The Future, former vice president Al Gore notes that “[m]any companies have provided large amounts of money over the last two decades to ‘liars for hire’ who turn out a seemingly endless stream of misleading, peripheral, irrelevant, false, and unscientific claims.” Among the outrageous claims he cites are that “Global warning is a hoax…by activists who want to impose socialism or worse,” and that global warming “is the result of a natural cycle.” One can conclude only that the reason almost half of Americans believe global warning to be a hoax is that big oil, coal and natural gas companies consider it worth spending billions to convince us that it’s fine to burn as much carbon fuel as we can. Right: and the earth is only seven thousand years old and humans co-existed with dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs, the screen is loaded with ‘em thanks to Craig Rosebraugh’s searing documentary, Greedy Lying Bastards. Now, with a title like that, you didn’t think that this was one of those even-handed documentaries, did you? Rosebraugh, like millions of right-thinking, rational, scientifically-minded Americans and people around the world think, no they know, that the world is going to pot only partly because of the hot air issuing forth from humans like Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. We’re heading toward a point of no return because not just nature, but, more important, our fellow humans are contributing to the tragedy of global warming. But not just any human beings, just a special breed of highly paid lobbyists and executives of some major corporations like Exxon-Mobil and the Koch brothers who together with their cronies in the U.S. Congress lie to the public with straight faces that “coal is clean” and that only hippies and weird activists are trying to convince us that these huge companies are more concerned with profits than with the lives of their own grandchildren. Rosebraugh, though, is hardly an entertainer like documentarians Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. The only humor comes inadvertently, from the mouths of corporate lackeys in Congress and one particular Brit with eyes like a pug’s.

One gets the impression from this hard-hitting film that folks who deny any human responsibility for the carbon dioxide and methane gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are not unlike those who say that the Holocaust never happened.

With some spectacular photos and clever computer graphics that keep the pace moving swiftly, Greedy Lying Bastards alternates between rational people and between the clowns at Fox News and the likes of Glenn Beck and a Republican senator from Oklahoma who has received lots of money from the oil and gas industries and even Clarence Thomas who should have recused himself from the Supreme Court hearings in the Citizens United case because he had been in the pay of corporate bigwigs.

What should we make of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney who argues that all the Democrats can talk about is how the oceans are rising and the ice caps are melting and the island nation of Tuvalu will soon become as submerged as Das Boot, while he, a responsible member of the GOP, is here to help you and your family?

The scientists on display in this doc may not be as charismatic as the know-nothings off in the far right wings of the political spectrum, but how can anyone deny what seems obvious from the wildfires in the west that have caused droughts and the brown-outs in the east and the floods that have invaded the rickety homes of Tuvalu citizens like water that might appear in your suburban basement? A major point is that when the public hears these corporate gentlemen enough times, telling The Big Lie simply with the purpose of casting doubt (as though the two sides are equal in probability), the public in large numbers will cast their votes with the doubt-makers.

What can we do? The filmmakers ask us to boycott the Koch brothers, who had contributed an estimated four hundred million dollars to the Romney campaign but continue to spew pollutants from their interests in the petroleum and chemical industries. So…don’t buy Georgia Pacific building and paper products, Angel Soft toilet paper and Brawny paper towels. A lot of good that will do. What’s really needed is massive public demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street to pressure the politicians to slap a major curb on these malefactors, or bastards, as the film prefers to call them.

What’s not mentioned is that methane gases that come from the tummies of cattle are a super major cause of the whole problem. Boycott meat would be my own suggestion, but not even Al Gore has come out with that advice lest, perhaps, he’d be considered some kind of weirdo—like Bill Clinton who is already on a vegan diet.

Press notes tell us that the movie was filmed in the U.S., Tuvalu, Peru, England, Uganda, Kenya, Belgium, Denmark and Germany and includes interviews with scientists, industry experts, international political delegates and people impacted by the changing climate as well as deniers.

Unrated. 89 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



Don Scardino's
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Opens Friday, March 15, 2013

Screenwriter: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell from Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s story

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, David Copperfield

Warner Bros

Reviewed for New York Cool Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

In the movie’s most incredible magic act, the title figure and his partner make their entire theater audience disappear. Amazing as it may sound, magicians Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelon (Steve Buscemi), promise hundreds of people seated in the theater that they will disappear and, lo, moments later the entire contingent is outside on the lawn! Happily, the team, together with partner Jane (Olivia Wilde), let us in on how this is done in the story’s final scene, but one thing you can count on: nobody in the movie theaters around the country are going to leave their seats and disappear before this film is over. That’s how funny and even riveting this partly sentimental, partly ha-ha funny and even darkly-humorous Don Scardino’s movie is. Scardino, known for five seasons of TVs 30 Rock and episodes of The West Wing, Law & Order and Two Broke Girls among other features, evokes crackerjack performances from the entire cast, who all appear to be having great fun and are perhaps wondering how they manage to get paid for doing what they love.

With a script by four writers—in this case not a warning sign that a committee-written story will be bland—Scardino takes us to Las Vegas, with later parts of the film taking place in Los Angeles. But first we get insight into what made Burt a magician. He (played as a kid by Mason Cook) and his only friend, Anton Marvelon (played by Luke Vanek), are too nerdy to be liked by the popular guys in the ‘burbs, but they bond over a magic set designed by Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin—shown in the set’s video looking a quarter- century younger, a tribute to the make-up department). Fast forward many years later, they’re a team that alternate wisecracks with some neat tricks, anything from manipulating a deck of cards to performing an “execution” by hanging.

Their act is being undermined by a rival, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who attracts a younger demographic with such numbers by not only walking across a bed of coals but lying on them for an entire night, and ultimately by drilling a hole in his head, allegedly through the one angle that does not destroy the brain. (This does not turn out too well.) He’s more a gross-out than a prestidigitator, but that seems what the new audience wants according to Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), a developer who owns glitzy casinos and who announces a version of a reality show by promising a five-year contract to whichever magician can wow the audience more.

Some cute and effective throwaway lines include one by Burt to his groupies who must sign a pledge in his bedroom that they are over 18 and a release form to disallow lawsuits. Jim Carrey takes on a comparatively brief side role, still using his basic shtick of making statements with suspenseful, breathtaking pauses, Olivia Wilde does fine as the team’s not-so-loyal assistant, but Steve Carell is at the top of his form in what is perhaps his most flamboyant role, one that offers stark contrast to his performance as a marriage counselor in David Frankel’s Hope Springs and, of course, his dryly humorous role in TVs The Office. As for how that Yorkie pup got into his pants, you’ll have to see the movie several times to figure that out.

Rated PG-13. 100 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




François Ozon
In The House (Dans la maison)
Opens Friday, April 19, 2013

Screenwriter: François Ozon, adapting Juan Mayorga’s play “The Boy in the Last Row”

Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Ernst Umhauer, Bastien Ughetto

Cohen Media Group

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

François Ozon’s In the House, by the noted director of such gems as Potiche (a husband is taken hostage in a factory, his trophy wife taking the reins of the business) and Swimming Pool (touchy dynamics between a British mystery author and the daughter of his publisher), is about a young man with a vivid fantasy life. The story conjures memories of Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry,a cynical movie about the dangers of using real characters for novels and Luigi Pinadello’s play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, about six people claiming to be part of an unfinished story, asking the writer to complete the job.

Superbly highlighting the interactions between sixteen-year-old Claude (played by 22-year-old Ernst Unhauer) and his teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini), In the House not only asks the audience to cast judgments on the young writer, whose essays involve real people but with actions that are either true or made up, but to judge the teacher as well for encouraging the lad but presumably going too far in his efforts to nurture the kid’s talent. Ultimately we’re looking principally at the teacher, carrying on a fairly dull life with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and seeking vicarious thrills by following a series of compositions by Claude that hone in on the private lives of another family.

We in the audience may guess which of the scenes are real, though the veracity is not really important. Germain reads the essays to his wife, but generally Ozon shows rather than simply tells us of the goings-on in the family of Claude’s best friend, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) by having them act out the essays. We learn quite a bit about family dynamics in the teacher’s home, where Jeanne’s job involves running a failing avant-garde gallery; in the house of the best friend, where mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and her flamboyant husband Denis (Rapha Artole père) are running into problems of communication and whose middle-class life-style is threatened.

In the House is in part a comedy of manners, as we note how often Claude parodies the bourgeois aspirations of Esther, whose reproductions of Klee are said to be beyond her ability to comprehend. The movie is also a clever, cynical comedy about frustrated lives. Claude’s parents had split up, the boy’s lack of a stable home supplying him the impetus of eavesdropping on the lives of his pal’s parents. Germain considers his latest sophomore English class the worst ever, giving him impetus to encourage the one potential writer in the group. Jeanne is downbeat, about to lose her job in the art gallery. Ralpha Artole père has a deal cooked up that’s about to go belly-up and his wife Esther is ready to carry on an affair with a sixeen-year-old, or so the latter says.

In the House won Best Screenplay as the jury prize at the 2012 San Sebastian Film Festival.

Unrated. 105 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online





Todd Berger’s
It’s a Disaster!
Opens Friday, April 12, 2013

Written by Todd Berger.

Starring: Julia Styles, David Cross, America Ferrera, Erinn Hayes, Jeff Grace, Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan, Blaise Miller, Laura Adkins, Rob McGillivray, Jesse Draper

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

It's a Disaster! deliciously blends black comedy with the apocalypse. Then adds in a dash of slacker angst and pathos with a heaping spoonful of lunacy. And mixes in an absolutely fabulous ensemble. Finally, the director stirs to perfection. The results are a strange and wonderful treat.

I admit this indie may not appeal to all tastes but I appreciated the meshing of the dark with the zany but then I’ve always been a fan of end-of-the-world comedies.

Helmer Todd Berger has crafted a kooky concoction where four couples occasionally get together for brunch. On this particular Sunday something odd is afoot. Sirens can be heard in the background and the TV, phone and—God forbid—Internet stop working. Turns out, some form of bio-chemical bomb has hit many cities in the US, including downtown Los Angeles.

I won’t spew any more plot, suffice to say this gives our cast ample opportunity to reveal themselves. They include: a hippie-ish couple who are sexually exploratory to say the least (wacky Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan, having a ball!); the soon-to-be divorced hosts (Erinn Hayes and Blaise Miller); a long engaged twosome who have nothing in common (Jeff Grace and America Ferrara) and a brunch veteran who brings a new beau (the wonderful Julia Stiles and David Cross).

A fifth, notoriously late, couple put in a brief, hilarious appearance later in the film, as does the director himself—in a HAZMAT suit!

Everything is fare game in this gem so we get sendups of suburban anxiety and paranoia, religious fundamentalism as well as the psychology of allowing a song to reach it’s climax before turning it off!

The writing is smart and clever and the casting, impeccable. Go see it, before time runs out.


 


Alexandra McGuinness'
Lotus Eaters
Opens Friday, April 5, 2013

Meneret Productions

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Screenwriter: Alexandra McGuinness, Brendan Grant

Starring: Antonia Campbell, Johnny Flynn, Benn Northover, Liam Browne, Amber Anderson, Cynthia Fortune Ryan

A recent crop of self-help, how-to-be-happy books—the kind that tell us that once you’re making $75,000 a year, each additional increment will not make you happier—also state that people in their seventies are the happiest while those in their twenties are not. This turns common sense on its head, but once you see Alexandra McGuinness’s Lotus Eaters, you’d be inclined to agree with current research. The rich men and women in their mid-twenties go through their privileged lives addled by drugs and without purpose. You may get so depressed looking at their life-styles that you’ll give up all your money and move to an ashram or monastery. Lotus Eaters is La Dolce Vita without the pizazz or artistry or flourishes that made Fellini’s tale of a philandering paparazzo’s week in Rome so gripping. The best thing that could be said about the lazily-directed, minimally structured drama Lotus Eaters is its seventy-eight minutes’ length.

The title comes from the Greek myth about people who eat narcotic flowers and sleep apathetically, not unlike the wealthy mid-twenties group in London who party party party. Having no need to work and no reason to think that labor might be the solution to their boredom, they drug themselves, they drink, they have sex—though the film lacks enough of that last item. The central couple, Charlie (Johnny Flynn), who is soon to drop from heroin, and his cherubic-looking girlfriend Alice (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), create attention mostly because at least one of the guys, Felix (Benn Northover) would like to take Charlie’s place (not dropping but linking up with Alice). Orna (Cynthia Fortune Ryan) looks a decade older than anyone else in the group, seemingly determined to use her authority to manipulate the members.

Director Alexandra McGuinness, whose only previous full-length film, Paris Noir is about a young man from the wrong end of the tracks who falls under the spell of a bourgeois woman, has her cinematographer Gareth Munden photograph the scenes in black and white. Maybe this symbolizes the colorless, i.e. rudderless lives of the subject; maybe it’s an attempt to be pretentious like Terrence Malick. There is some hope for the soundtrack, however, in fact the best scene in the movie features Charlie in a rendition of a folk song that might take those in the audience of a certain age back to the glorious sixties and seventies when Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Weavers captivated the U.S.

Unrated. 78 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



Janet Tobias'
No Place on Earth
Opens Friday, April 5th

Screenwriter: Janet Tobias, Paul Laikin

Starring: Saul Stermer, Sam Stermer, Sonia Dodyk, Sima Dodyk, Yetta Stermer, Sol Wexler, Christopher Nicola

Magnolia Pictures

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Some people ask for a respite from Holocaust movies on the grounds that everything said has already been told. One wonders whether these folks would say the same about crime movies, romances, family dysfunction comedies, operas, Shakespeare, etc. In fact, No Place on Earth does break new ground, literally in fact, focusing on an event which, if entered into competition in the Guinness Book of World Records would inform us that it depicts the longest underground survival rate in history, far longer than enjoyed when Saddam Hussein was holed up and captured in a matter of days or weeks. Janet Tobias’s History Channel film, interestingly enough, is not a doc and not a narrated drama, but a hybrid: some of each goes into the picture logging in just enough fiction to make the drama as interesting, albeit for me not riveting, as can be.

Christopher Nocola, a cave explorer or spelunker, anchors the movie, a man whose New York accent gives away his location and who made his most prominent find in 1993 when exploring caves in western Ukraine. He found graffiti, if you will, evidence that people had lived there for a while, and guessed that the occupants had been Jews who entered the caves to hide from the Nazis during the early 1940s. With Janet Tobias in tow as director and with the help of Paul Laikin’s scripting together with the director’s, No Place on Earth explores the lives of these remarkable people, all of whom survived among the merely five percent who emerged more or less intact after the Russian liberated the area.

Esther Shermer, whose memoirs form the basis of the film and who was a member of the Wexler and Stermer families, tells of how the families stayed alive. They lived in the darkness, chill, mud and humidity of the cave for an awesome 511 days, managing to survive on the dripping water and on the skill of the men who at night emerges to find food. Discovered by the police in 1943, some were shot while others found their way into a similar refuge. A well-fed American can scarcely imagine what these folks went through; not just their fear of being caught which must be caused even greater chills than the temperature but the filth that accumulated on their bodies, the smells, the sewage, and the boredom they must have experienced in darkness without books or movies or any particular way to ameliorate their fate.

When the finally emerged into the sunlight, they were blinded at first, perhaps experiencing the trauma of which Plato wrote in his allegory of the cave wherein the Greeks, who told their find to compatriots still living below, found the story not accepted by dwellers who believed the dark to be the reality.

In this hybrid, actors take on the roles of the survivors, shunting aside what should have been provided, namely more archival film. As typical in docs and even in a dramatized doc like this one, the interviews are overlong, so the audience could not be blamed for wondering who was who. The melancholy music, wall to wall (literally) did little other than to distract from the drama of the story.

Unrated. 82 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Matteo Garrone’s
Reality
Opens Friday, March 15, 2013

Written by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso.

Starring: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Nando Paone, Graziella Mariana, Nello Iorio, Nunzia Schiano, Rosaria D’Urso, Giuseppina Cervizzi, Claudia Gerini, Raffaele Ferrante, Paola Minaccioni, Ciro Petrone, Salvatore Misticone.

Oscilloscope Laboratories.

In Italian (Neopolitan) with subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Matteo Garrone changes cine-gears completely after the gritty Gomorra and gives us a satire that is also quite entrenched in realism titled, Reality. The blend works in ways that are sweet, incisive, sometimes predictable and often provocative.

From the film’s opening where an opulent gold coach arrives to pick up a bride and groom to a perfect ending I will not spoil, Garrone unapologetically comments on the good life—that virtually unattainable ‘fame and fortune’ everyone is taught to crave—especially in our reality-television-infested times. The unattainable is now attainable—or so we are tricked into believing.

The film takes place in Napoli and revolves around an amoral fishmonger named Luciano (Aniello Arena, who I was flabbergasted to learn had never acted in a film before). In order to feed his family, he and his wife resell kitchen robots (food processors) on the black market. Luciano is constantly surrounded by a bunch of chatty, busybodies--his extended family.

One day at a mall, Grande Fratello (Big Brother), one of the most popular shows in Italy (currently in it’s 12th season) holds auditions for the upcoming season and to make his children happy, Luciano talks himself into an audition. Thus begins the insanely hilarious and devastatingly horrific downfall of a loveable Neopolitan rapscallion.

After he is called in for a second audition at Cinecitta in Rome, Luciano begins wanting and actually believing he will be cast in the show. Paranoia soon takes over as he convinces himself the producers are sending spies to evaluate his behavior. So he must do good in order to please them.

Garrone and his three co-screenwriters never condescend to their protagonist the way the Coen brothers often do. Instead Luciano is portrayed as misguided but good, deep-down. And the more unhinged he becomes, the more we root for some kind of miracle only films can usually provide (Well, films and Catholicism if your Italian).

Reality, at times, reminded me of Visconti’s Bellissima, Weir’s The Truman Show and La Dolce Vita (as well as a few other Fellini films like the gloriously underrated Ginger and Fred). Garrone is a master of manipulation and as Luciano falls deeper into his delusional rabbit hole, his whole world seems to get smaller and dimmer via the camera.

Napoli and the Neopolitan language are part of the charm of Reality and the neo-neo realism of the acting, specifically by the extended family and villagers work magnificently. Providing a stark contrast is Raffaele Ferrante who is deliciously over-the-top as the Big Brother-star known only as “Enzo.”

Anchoring the film in allegorical realism is Arena. His extensive work in Italian theatre is apparent since his performance is so grounded that no matter how outrageous this fable becomes, he keeps it, well, real.

Belief in God vs. television is an interesting notion the film explores--though the Italian people can’t seem to win either way. My vote’s for television. Until the Catholic Church cleans up it’s act, TV is more trustworthy.




Gilles Bourdos's
Renoir
Opens Friday, March 29, 2013

Screenwriter: Jerome Tonnerre, Gilles Bourdos, Michel Spinosa, based on the book “Le Tableau armoureux” by Jacques Renoir

Starring Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret, Vincent Rottiers, Thomas Doret, Romane Bohringer

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

A small percentage of the world’s people have a talent so immense that the rest of us may wonder what goes on in their personal lives to shape their avocations. Many in this elite circle may have unexceptional lives, not worthy of the interest of a biographer, a novelist of a filmmaker. Not so Pierre-August Renoir, who may have been genetically privileged to be one of the great Western painters. After all, his son Jean Renoir, presumably sharing in the gift, became a major filmmaker whose most celebrated offerings have been La règle du jeu and La grande illusion. As seen by director Gilles Bourdos, who looks at the painter’s final years while When Renoir was in his seventies, the master did not have a charmed life in one way. He was dependent on a wheelchair, and simply opening his hand to make a fist or bending his leg caused him considerable pain. Victimized by rheumatoid arthritis, he needed to bandage his hand in order to hold a paintbrush, He was unhampered by this physical handicap, Renoir continued to create impressionist magic despite his infirmities.

Renoir is a notable film; cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing, who is himself like a painter. determined to create gorgeous scenes from the bright sunlight of France’s Cote d’azur, the quality of the film stock perhaps exceeding even the machinations of the story. In fact surprisingly, Gilles Bourdos, whose Afterwards flirted with some non-narrative experimentation (about a divorced lawyer who comes into contact with a doctor able to predict a person’s imminent demise via a white light around the poor fellow), Renoir is nothing if not utterly conventional. We in the audience may be touched in part by the artist’s ability and determination to continue his passion despite serious illness, and further, we are privy to the seductive qualities of a free-spirited young woman who poses for the Great Man who, in turn, informs his son Jean that nothing in the world can equal the appeal of a young woman’s flesh.

As played by Michel Bouquet (Toto the Hero), himself an eighty-seven year old actor in the role of a seventy-four year old artist, the title figure has a thick goatee and a shaved head generally covered by a hat. Renoir insists on continuing to paint despite a doctor’s plea to take it easy. “I’ll paint until I collapse,” says “the boss” as the many characters in the household call him, and true to his promise he practiced his art until his death in 1919 at the age of seventy-eight. If we are to believe his younger, mischievous son Coco (Thomas Doret) the artist tended to bed his models, and no doubt Renoir would not be averse to seducing the porcelain-faced beauty, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Théret), who stopped by the spacious Renoir estate to model on the way to becoming an actress. (She would later perform in films such as the silent Nana under the name Catherine Hessling.)

But if the elder Renoir was no longer fit for such dalliances, his second son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), on leave from World War I with a serious leg injury, catches the models eye. Renoir paints, Andrée poses. The son gets counseling on the beauty of women. The servants cook and bathe Renoir. Life goes on. This is to say that despite one outburst by Andrée wherein she smashes plates in the kitchen, the principal drama occurs in the minds of the film’s occupants rather than in melodrama or serious overly expressed conflict.

For my taste, the film is too conventional, but that lack is made up by the sprightly performance of Christa Théret, the twenty-one year old actress known by the younger set for her role in LOL, and by the sumptuous photography. Renoir may get a youthful audience of students at The School of Visual Arts but otherwise it’s mostly for the older demographic, for those with an interest in acting performance, in relatively sedate French filmmaking, and especially in the beautiful colors captured by Mark Lee Ping-bing’s lenses.

Rated R. 111 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



 

Rodney Ascher's
Room 237
Opens Friday, March 22, 2012

Screenwriter: Rodney Ascher

Starring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

IFC Midnight

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten.

Maybe you’ve had this experience. You come out of a movie and begin to discuss your impressions with a friend only to hear your pal say, “Hey, relax, it’s only a movie!” This is the kind of outlook that had led to experts holding film’s role as a mere stepchild to great painting and literature. When you come out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, his 2001: A Space Odyssey, or his Full Metal Jacket or A Clockwork Orange, you’re likely to find true art, the equivalent of classic literature. Many things are there to discuss, however, though most of these post-film chats would deal with the quality of the direction or the acting or production design or what-have-you. But dig more deeply into a Kubrick film and you may find that the master—who is said to have had an I.Q. of 200—had placed challenges within his works that only most prescient of film buffs would discover. In fact if you were to see in The Shining what Rodney Ascher, director of Room 237 did, and tried to convince your pals of some off-the-wall interpretations, you might be laughed out of Starbucks where you hoped to make salient points.

We don’t know to this day whether Kubrick intended to throw symbols into The Shining as though he were challenging moviegoers into finding them if they stared hard enough or saw the film enough times. He did not leave any interviews, any magazine articles or books revealing this intention—like the magician who even on his deathbed would not reveal his tricks. But this omission is the very thing that allows Ascher to glorify Kubrick as a man who not only could scare the bejeezus out of us and to show how immensely talented Jack Nicholson could be, but one who like the designer of a crossword puzzle would tantalize us into a Kabbalistic analysis. For example, did you know that the number 237 was chosen because 2 x 3 x 7 equals 42 and that the Holocaust began in Europe in 1942? I didn’t know of that relationship and perhaps Kubrick himself didn’t know, but Ascher has fun for over an hour and a half with his fetching theories including one that indicates that Hotel Overlook in the Colorado Rockies in which the action takes place was chosen because it was built on an Indian burial ground. And what’s more, The Shining is really about the Holocaust and about the genocide committed by the U.S. against Native Americans.

You don’t have to believe this, and probably most of the people in the audience for this doc may scoff. But as my middle school teacher said many times over, what’s important is to ask questions, not to determine answers. All this makes Room 237 tantalizing. And by the way, whatever happened to Shelly Duvall, a principal actor in The Shining along with Nicholson, who had not made another movie since 2002, while Danny Lloyd, the seven-year-old in the role of a kid with supernatural powers, was seen only once more in a TV movie? C’est la vie.

Using lots of edited strips from Kubrick movies and scores of others, Ascher interviews folks like Bill Blakemore, a journalist, who notes in a poster that he saw in Britain advertising The Shining as depicting “the wave of terror that swept across America” and concludes that the “terror” is not 9/11 which, of course had not taken place in 1980 when The Shining was released, but is actually the genocide against the American Indians. Another subject, the academic Geoffrey Cocks, notes that the portable typewriter that is essentially a character in one scene is German, the Adler model, and since Adler means Eagle, the Nazi symbol, The Shining is about the Holocaust. Jay Weidner, an author, notes that room 237 was chosen by Kubrick because that is the sound stage that Kubrick used in 1969 for his fictional moon footage.

Few people have the 200 I.Q. that Kubrick is said to have possessed, so who are we groundlings to poo-poo the basic theory that Kubrick went beyond Stephen King’s 1977 novel—whose title came from a John Lennon song and not from visions of genocide—to have his own metaphoric fun?

The movie is marred by shots from The Shining that are repeated ad nauseum and from the director’s interjections of “you know” perhaps fifty or more times during the course of the commentary. Where is the editor?

Thought provoking all this is, but then again, you’re likely to leave the theater with “It’s only an interpretation.”

Unrated. 102 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Ken Scott's
Starbuck
Opens Friday, March 22, 2013

Director: Ken Scott

Screenwriter: Ken Scott, Martin Petit

Starring: Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand, Julie LeBreton, Igor Ovadis

eOne Entertainment/ Caramel Films

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rottentomatoes.com

Ask any American schoolchild who is the father of our country and you’ll hopefully get the answer “George Washington.” Ask Québécois Canadians who is the father of Montréal and you may get the answer “David Wozniak.” OK, an exaggeration, maybe, but the lad did bring 533 people into the world, 534 if you count the one child he introduced to Canada the old-fashioned way, and that’s not bad for someone who never even had a wife. At the time that most of us males are extra fertile—during our adolescence up to about the age of thirty—we are in possession of some mighty potent semen, and what’s the thing to do that’s right up there with donating blood and saving lives? Why giving people the gift of life, of course, and all it take are a few magazines, a plastic cup, and an indifference to the notion that spilling your seed is somehow immoral or perverted.

That’s the way David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) thought: he had use for the money that the sperm center paid him--$24,000 in all back during the 1980s—yet David would seem to be the last guy in the world who should be a father. We know this from the movie Starbuck, which is directed by Ken Scott in his sophomore contribution as régisseur. Scott’s whose previous offering was Sticky Fingers or Les doigt croches about a group of bumbling thieves who stole millions but only one of the crew got away. Come to think of it, Sticky Fingers might be an apt title for this one but Scott, who shares a writing credit with Martin Petit, preferred Starbuck, since the title refers to a Canadian Holstein bull that produced hundreds of thousands of progeny by artificial insemination.

David could be called a manchild in that he lost $80,000 investing in far-out, failing businesses and who cannot even do a proper job of delivering meat from his father's business in a timely fashion, is being chased by the mob. David, whose expressions might remind cinephiles of Gérard Depardieu, has a girlfriend about to send him packing since he never calls, yet he is the biological father of 533 children, most of whom are now in their twenties. One hundred forty-two of these "children" have sued the clinic to discover the identity of their biological father. A countersuit is not really explained or justified but is just something David’s lawyer Paul (Antoine Bertrand) dreamed up as a way of making money from the clinic. Though Paul, a comic creation in his own right, is actually living with his own kids, he never stops cynically speaking of the fatherhood as a bummer and tries to keep David from becoming like him.

When David secretly observes some of the 142 biological children whose pictures and bios he obtains, he finds himself gaining in maturity by helping them out or simply by making them feel good. He saves the life of a drug addict, visits and feeds a young man who is severely disabled, coaxes people in the Métro to contribute to a guitar-playing singer, aids an actor to make the audition on time, and teaches a Goth who is ostracized to join him in the weekly soccer game that David enjoys with his friends.

Starbuck has a decent share of laughs given the two cartoonish men depicted therein and, to be sure, Is abundant on sentiment—lots of hugs, a feeling of family however large, experiences that would be difficult to duplicate unless you’re blessed as well with a Guinness-book record-breaking family size. Patrick Huard firmly anchors the production as a bearded, pot-bellied screw-up (or, more accurately as the story brings out “El Mastabator”), who learns that notwithstanding the pressure put upon him by the Mob, a loving family is what life is all about.

White subtitles are difficult to read against the light background, but that won't be a problem for Americans who will see the remake with Vince Vaughn scheduled to open October 4th with Ken Scott again at the helm.

Rated R. 109 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


Antonio Campos'
Simon Killer
Opens Friday, Apri 5th

Screenwriter: Antonio Campos, story by Antonio Campos, Brady Corbet, Mati Diop

Starring: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Michael Abiteboul, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salot, Solo

IFC Films

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

When American travel to Europe on vacation, they do not generally communicate with the locals, their only contacts being with professional guides, waiters and hotel personnel. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, at least when you consider what happens to Simon (Brady Corbet). Brady Corbet is made for this role, coming from a riveting performance as one of two young psychopaths in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. As Peter in that film, he and his buddy go from house to house terrorizing the residents, acting oh-so-cultured on meeting them and getting their trust.

That we should be careful about giving our trust to people is a theme in Simon Killer, directed by Antonio Campos whose previous works include Afterschool about a preppie who captures the drug overdose of two girls on video. Here Campos takes us to the streets of Paris where hookers, like Victoria (Mati Diop) are all cuter than American streetwalkers and where one even has that proverbial heart of gold. Such a soul is lacking, however, in Simon, a compulsive liar whose sweetheart of five years had thrown him out leading him to travel to Paris to “clear his head.” But from the start, we in the audience sense that something is wrong deep down, however articulate and pleasant he appears to us at first, as when he discusses the trauma of his breakup with Carlo (Nicolas Ronchi), a friend of his mother who is allowing Simon to stay at his flat while he goes away for a month.

If Simon Killer gets an MPAA rating, NC-17 is the only way it could go given several scenes of soft porn that find the title character having vigorous sex with Victoria, a hooker who has taken a liking to her customer after having charged him one hundred fifty euros for each of two sexual adventures. Simon gains her sympathy by being vulnerable, telling of his breakup back in New York and in one situation, having provoked a fight with a couple of thugs, asking to stay at her place while she bandages his hand.

We in the audience cannot be sure when Simon is lying when he tells Victoria the same line he gave to Carlo: that he graduated from college with a degree in neuroscience. The story is repeated with Marianne (Constance Rousseau), a college student studying French medieval and Renaissance literature, who is taken in as well by the young man’s charm and by his insistence that his neuroscience thesis had been published. One thing is certain, however: Simon, despite the rage that lies beneath, is an appealing person (like Ted Bundy?) who becomes a target for mayhem after convincing Victoria to tape a couple of rich clients and to blackmail them.

Some in the audience may well find Simon Killer to be distasteful, even a movie that would prompt a walk-out for those who think that the sexual scenes are unnecessary for moving the plot forward. Even detractors will praise the performance by Brady Corbet, an interesting actor indeed, one perhaps destined to play more sociopathic roles as he did in Funny Games—a cold, amoral person who nonetheless knows how to succeed with women, at least at first. The movie has a fascinating techno-rock soundtrack of songs favored by the title character played at a blaring level, contrasting those moments with periods of silence on the track as we watch cinematographer Joe Anderson film the performers largely from the back with a sometimes dizzying, handheld camera.

Unrated. 106 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



Danny Boyle's
Trance
Opens Friday, April 5, 2013

Screenwriter: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge

Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

No film in recent memory exceeds the implied product placement of the science of hypnotherapy as does Danny Boyle’s visually stunning and boldly hallucinatory Trance. The picture is about memory—loss of—and the attempt by a band of motivated people to restore the ability of an amnesiac to remember a crucial bit of information. It is also a terrific poster, if you will, for female empowerment, even if the empowered woman may be skirting the law.

A film that seems to beg multiple viewings, but one which may not reveal its complexity no matter how many times you see it, Trance follows Nicolas Roeg’s method of keeping the audience off guard, as seen in Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which features a psychic who believes she can see the spirit of a drowned woman. It’s helps greatly that Boyle not only has a challenging and fascinating script from Joe Ahearne and John Hodge but a cast of three principals who are at the pinnacle of their acting powers and who play against each other exquisitely.

The action is seen through the eyes of Simon (James McAvoy), who serves as narrator and amnesiac, an auctioneer who sells off major works of art to the well-heeled but is also the inside man on a scheme to steal Goya’s painting Witches’ Flight. That work of art helped establish the Spanish artist’s rep as the first modern painter, in that he drew from inside a person’s subconscious mind. We learn that heavy measures are taken to secure the art works which are worth millions on a given day of auctioneering, but that thanks to Simon’s cooperation with a group of thieving professionals, a robbery takes place which could have been the perfect crime. Problem is that Simon, after hiding the Goya, is hit by a car and can no longer remember where he stashed the canvas, though at first, his accomplice Franck (Vincent Cassel) and a body of goons, are skeptical. When they realize Simon is telling the truth about his failed memory, they set him up with Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist who promises the gang that she can get Simon to reveal the hiding place.

Trance is a dream-within-a-dream undertaking, keeping the audience so off balance and so inundated with twists and turns that guessing which scenes are reality and which are products of Simon’s unconscious mind are not only impossible but beside the point. A major aim of the film is to show off director Boyle’s vivid imagination in translating the printed page to the screen, his cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, knocking out visual delights that take us from an imaginary ride in the country to a distant look at a motorway flooded with orange light. Much of the story seems to take place in the near future, though Boyle takes advantage of some keen flashbacks to clue us in at what’s going on in Simon’s mind, deliberately holding back on simple solutions.

Critics and general audience members will probably be divided on whether this lack of a straightforward narrative is a plus. Those of us with imaginations will welcome the seemingly endless diversions, while others will be frustrated trying to guess wildly at which of the action takes place in reality or in Simon’s mind. The film includes sexual tension (Franck and Simon compete for the carnal attentions of the therapist, who in one striking scene poses as though a subject of a Goya painting), showing us that Franck is a human being like the rest of us and not a simple, Philistine criminal. Rosario Dawson is lovely to look at, clothed and otherwise, and displays the charisma that one would expect of a successful hypnotherapist.

Rated R. 104 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Shane Carruth's
Upstream Color
Opens Friday, April 5, 2013

Screenwriter: Shane Carruth

Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Kathy Carruth, Meredith Burke

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Never before has the cover of Henry David Thoreau’s masterwork Walden appeared so frequently in a movie. Not only has the film’s lead character memorized it: Shane Carruth, credited as the writer, director, actor, producer, distributor and music man of Upstream Color appears to be reinterpreting Thoreau with this experimental movie. Not that the author would recognize Upstream Color as a postmodern version of his meditation, but Thoreau believed that by going into the woods for a while, living at least a mile from his nearest neighbor, he would detox, he would live “deliberately,” he would try to discover his real identity as opposed to the identity thrust upon him by the “civilized” environment.

Shane Carruth, whose previous entry Primer deals with the manipulation of the space-time continuum, continues on the path of originality, and if there’s one thing we need now in a world of cinematic genres it’s novelty. This is not to say that Upsteam Color is for a general audience since that general audience is quite comfortable with repetitions of car chases and explosions or, if leaning toward romance, would be disappointed if man chases woman, woman rejects man, man and woman get together were not guaranteed.

Still, the movie is a romance, albeit not one that you could find in a Harlequin paperback. To impose a narrative on Upstream Color would be reductive since the movie is more interested in poetry, meditations, spirituality and an implied wish to get the audience to plunk down money to see it a second time in an attempt to capture the elusive narrative.

In the story Kris (Amy Seimetz) is attacked by a thief (Thiago Martins), who forces her to swallow a worm. She loses much of her memory and is brainwashed into emptying her bank account, but that’s only the initial injury. As the worm reproduces within her body, she is picked up by a pig farmer, Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who slaps an oxygen mask on her face and transfers the essence of a pig onto her. She meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), a soul-mate, i.e. someone who has had the same brutal experiment done to him. They get together, engaging in strange dialogues that in real life would have caused them to take leave of each other in a half hour. But given the similarity of their fates, they use each other to try to find some meaning to their disordered lives.

Carruth fills the screen with shots, each edited to last no more than a few seconds. He shows us inexplicable fragments such as the pig farmer’s hi fi equipment that he uses to record pig sounds and also points to women harvesting orchids. His aim may be (just a guess) to disorient us in the audience in their theater seats to give us an approximation of the disorientation taking place in the lives of the two principals.

In portraying personalities exhibiting emotions from A to H, particularly those of Kris who in just one scene is giggling, another in which she revels in her knowledge of Walden, yet evokes a poker-face as her basic apperance, Carruth has evokes for us a fine performance from Amy Seimetz and a puzzler that suggests that perhaps it’s futile to put a narrative spin on any of this. The film won an award for sound design at the 2013 Sundance Festival, which may be damning the pic with faint praise. As for seeing the film again for a better understanding…I’ll take a raincheck.

Unrated. 96 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



 

 


Quentin Dupieux's
Wrong
Opens Friday, March 29, 2013

Screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux

Starring: Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, William Fichtner, Steve Little, Mark Burnham

Drafthouse Films

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Boldly flaunting his love of the absurd, Quentin Dupieux presents an everyman in an anonymous area of California who is frustrated by all he sees around him, unable to communicate with his fellows in anything resembling the reality with which he is familiar. Dupieux, whose previous contribution Rubber about a tire with telepathic powers, is more grounded in some form of reality this time, the human beings still speaking in the kind of English that we in the audience can comprehend. If Dupieux wants to focus primarily on our inability to communicate, he is in good company. Eugene Ionesco, a founder of the Theatre of the Absurd, touched upon the same theme in Rhinocéros, which went further than Dupieux in satirizing the evils of conformity and, even more broadly, the meaningless of existence.

In what could have served as an extended sketch on Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, Wrong is immediately shown to be absurdist by framing a group a fire fighters sitting around while a vehicle is burning, indifferently watching one of the team squatting with his newspaper and relieving himself. To support the surrealism of the movie, the next frame shows finds Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) awakening as the alarm clock goes from 7:59 to 7:60, hinting that “Wrong” is a new version of Groundhog Day, which it is not.

Dolph’s dog Paul is missing. Wrong takes us on Dolph’s efforts to find his sole companion, often the butt of cruelty and indifference along the way. His neurotic neighbor calls him in effect a liar. His office mates shun and belittle him, while the boss adds insult to injury by demanding that he not show his face again in her travel business—in which indoor rain is treated as nothing unusual by the others. He is hit on by Emma (Alexis Dziena) who takes orders in a pizza joint, and is obeyed loyally by Victor (Victor Judor), his gardener, who tries to please his boss when the latter’s palm tree turns into a pine. Master Chang (William Fichtner), sporting a burn on one side of his face, sets up a meeting with Dolph, explaining why the dog is missing, then putting a strange detective (Steve Little) on Paul’s trail.

In what looks like an alternate universe and yet bears enough anchorage in reality, Wrong, whose generic title could have been used for any work of cinema and literature that evokes conflict, becomes tiresome after the fifth of sixth attempt at Kafkaesque exhibitions, as Dupieux makes his point now and again, then again and now, that people have difficulty understanding one another, and that the segments that are understandable are cruel. Jack Plotnick saves the story by coming off as a modern version of Peter Sellers’s deadpan character Chance in Hal Ashby’s Being There, except that nothing he or anyone around him says could be mistaken as profound.

Unrated. 93 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Gilles Legrand's
You Will Be My Son (Tu seras mon fils)
Opens Friday, March 29, 2013

Screenwriter: Gilles Legrand, Delphine de Vigan

Starring: Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Nicolas Bridet

Cohen Media Group

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

It’s only natural for fathers and mothers to want their sons and daughters to choose work similar to their own; that is, if the work done by the older generation is meaningful to society, enjoyable to themselves, and of course lucrative. There’s an exception, however, and it’s a poignant one. If a professional person has a son or daughter considered to be incompetent, weak, somehow missing the qualifications for the job, then that young person is going to be resentful, even more so if the parent chooses someone outside the family to take over the responsibility.

You Will Be My Son or Tu seras mon fils, written and directed by Gilles Legrand, is deep into family histrionics. The father, Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), owns a vineyard said to be worth thirty million euros and employs several workers to pick the grapes. His son, Martin (Lorant Deutsch) is a good administrator but is said to have no nose for the product. The young man, who despite his dorky looks has a beautiful wife, Alice (Anne Marivin), asks for more responsibilities, but his dad holds him back. In fact the old man had depended on the talents of a long-term estate manager, François (Patric Chesnais), who is dying of pancreatic cancer and whose place would shortly need to be filled. Paul’s dream of an heir appears near fulfillment when François’ confident son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), returns home to France from his job at Coppola wines in California.

If Paul comes across as a bastard it’s largely because he is a heartless manipulator, a trait that stood him well as owner of the vineyard but which continues to widen the schism between him and young Martin. If Paul hands Martin a few more responsibilities, it’s not out of a feeling that the boy could learn on the job. Quite the opposite: Paul intends to continue humiliating his own son throughout the story. Nor should we expect a Hollywood ending that would have father and son embrace each other and reconcile their differences.

We in the audience do not learn much about wine that we do not already know, but oenophiles among us might be tempted to jump into the theater screen like a kid tempted with chocolate ice cream, to take our share of the products on display—as we’d expect Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, in Alexander Payne’s Sideways, to do. A study of wine, however, is not the principal point of the drama any more than prescription drugs are the main objective in Steven Soderbergh’s wonderful thriller Side Effects. The battles among people who have known one another for decades and in one case between Martin and François’ golden-boy son Philippe (who in one scene take a bath in grapes while staying at a two thousand euros a night hotel in Paris), are in the forefront.

The story is compelling: most of all, You Will Be My Son (the “you” being Philippe and the “my” being Paul), soars because of Niels Arestrup’s Oscar-worthy performance as the rich older man whose contempt for his own son had begun as early as the latter’s birth. Arestrup, whose stomach doubtless projects the actor’s love for the output of some fine French chefs, was last seen in the U.S. as grandfather in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. His résumé of thirty-seven films includes most in supporting roles, but his presence in You Will Be My Son is so authentic that if you were to meet him on the street you’d think of him as a connoisseur of the grape rather than as an actor. This is a superb production with Yves Angelo’s widescreen lensing likely to cause purveyors of foreign films to become Francophiles.

Unrated. 101 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


 


 

 


 

 


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