"5 Flights Up"
Opens Friday, May 8, 2015
Charlie Peters, based on novel “Heroic Measures”
by Jill Climent
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon,
Claire van der Boom, Korey Jackson, Carrie Preston
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Data based
on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director Richard Loncraine, whose
résumé includes the likes of Shakespeare’s
“Richard III,” evokes considerable tension
from his cast in “5 Flights Up,” but here’s
the surprise. The tension does not come from watching
the timer on a bomb clicking toward zero while the good
guys work frantically to debate which wires to cut with
2 seconds to go. Nor does the stress emanate from the
hurried tracking of a stalker who has promised to kill
the former girlfriend who has dismissed him for another
a lover. The tension is borne from our wondering whether
an elderly couple, Alex (Morgan Freeman) and his wife
of forty years, Ruth (Diane Keaton), will find a good
price for the home they bought decades ago and which has
appreciated in price from $5,000 (as described in Jill
Climent’s novel “Heroic Measures”) to
almost one million dollars today. The hood is Williamsburg,
which has emerged from the lower depths to become one
of the hippest neighborhood in all of New York City, and
a successful sale of this fifth-floor walkup will enable
the child-free duo to change their digs to Manhattan’s
Upper East Side. It looks as though all signals are “go,”
but the inevitable twist near the conclusion upends the
story’s arc convincingly.
Not that their lives are a breeze. Ruth
and Alex’s 12-year-old Border terrier (a Dachshund
in the novel), which they name Dorothy because “we’re
not in Kansas anymore” (never mind that Dorothy
is not and had never been a Cairn, though as a pup she
was a Norfolk terrier), develops a spinal problem possibly
from walking four flights daily and needs a $1,000 MRI
and a $10,000 operation, but that’s no problem for
a duo expecting almost a seven-figure sale on their wildly
appreciated flat. And did we mention that the couple are
interracial to the regret of Ruth’s family who,
in the 1970s, suggest, “What about your children?”
“5 Flights Up,” which could
be performed on an off-Broadway stage, is both a heartfelt
drama about the lives of two mature people—a rare
enough subject for the movies these days—and a comedy
formed by shuttling in a virtual army of neurotic New
Yorkers who are looking at apartments either with the
idea of buying or, well, just looking. As the real estate
agent who wants nothing to do with the mere lookers, Niece
(Cynthia Nixon) runs around frantically in search of her
commission, even setting up a deal with the agent representing
the potential sellers in Manhattan (Carrie Preston—who
in the TV series “The Good Wife” steals every
scene she’s in).
It’s great to find a drama whose
smiles and even laughs do not insult our intelligence
(“Mike & Molly” and “2 Broke Girls”
anybody?) but emerge quite naturally from the story. And
how can you go wrong with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton
in the starring roles? If, like me, you live in Brooklyn
and are of a certain age, and have considered changing
your venue as this painter and that retired teacher have
done, and moreover you have or had a small dog, you will
enjoy the added bonus of relating strongly to the theme.
“5 Flights Up” deserves a wider audience than
“Furious 7.” But I somehow think that wish
is overly optimistic.
Lou Howe has created a very unique filmic
experience with his first outing as writer and director.
Gabriel, the movie and the character, challenges
the viewer in ways that may confound and surprise them.
The film will certainly make you nervous and uneasy. But
it’s worth a Xanax or three.
Howe begins the film with Gabriel (Rory
Culkin), having just debussed, manically needing to see
his girlfriend, Alice (Emily Meade), and pounding on her
dorm door, injuring himself in the process. We soon discover
that Alice no longer lives in the freshman dorm since
Gabriel has been away for a few years. In addition, Gabriel
has family waiting at home for him. Immediately we realize
that our protagonist is unusual to say the least. And,
perhaps, a bit…off.
Turns out Gabe (he does not like to
be called Gabriel) is being released from an institution
where he’s been battling with mental illness. The
release is in no way definite and hinges on his getting
along with his perpetually concerned mother (a very effective
Deirdre O’Connell) and his straight-laced older
brother (David Call, excellent). Both are worried about
Gabe. Neither trusts him--and with good reason. Each chance
he gets he runs away. Gabe has held onto the notion, for
the last few years, that his relationship with Alice holds
the answers to all his problems and he must find her.
At times, the film has a suspense thriller
feel about it as we learn bits more about Gabe and the
reasons he can’t be around his mother and brother.
And we flee with him as he searches for Alice. And once
he finds her, the scene is electrifying.
Howe creates a skewed sense of claustrophobia
since the camera follows Gabe everywhere, giving us his
perspective and forcing us to be empathetic towards him
and his plight, no matter how misguided it may feel. He
is also smart enough to keep any real diagnosis a mystery,
making Gabe’s story all the more personal. (My guess,
though, would be paranoid schizophrenia).
Anchoring the film is the remarkable
Rory Culkin who dares to infuse Gabe with a host of idiosyncrasies,
fears, doubts, demons and delusions. It’s a powerful,
self-aware portrayal and Culkin is only concerned with
doing right by the character.
Gabriel is an intense, psychological
portrait of a young man who is trying desperately to keep
connected to reality. The writing is searingly authentic,
the direction sharp and the performances genuine.
Opens Friday, June 26, 2015
Screenwriter: Boaz Yakin, Sheldon
Starring: Josh Wiggins, Robbie
Amell, Lauren Graham, Thomas Haden Church
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Databased
on Rotten Tomatoes.
In much the way movies
that would be rated “R” forty years ago are
now given MPAA judgments of “PG-13,” what
was considered “PG-13” then is now simply
“PG.” This phenomenon is brought out by Boaz
Yakin’s “Max,” about a boy and a dog,
but not the Disney-esque sentimental pap in which nothing
really sad occurs. Instead it’s full of explosions,
gunplay, violent death, and assorted scares. Kids today,
perhaps the prime audience for “Max,” could
be troubled by some aspects of the movie, but ultimately
they will acquire a real-life, vicarious experience involving
the death of a 14-year-old boy’s brother (shown
graphically in a scene from Afghanistan) and the violence
involving gun smugglers, one of whom violates the Marine
code of behavior by being involved in the theft and sale
of AK-47’s and a bazooka.
The movie stars Josh Wiggins in the
role of Justin Wincott, an actor who last appeared in
“Hellion” about a heavy metal obsessed 13-year-old
delinquent) and “Lost in the Sun,” about a
newly-orphaned teen who bonds with a small-time crook.
In “Max” Wiggins’s character opens as
a kid who could possibly turn bad. He is already distanced
from his mom, Pamela Wincott (Lauren Graham) and dad Ray
Wincott (Robbie Arnell), but in the tradition of Warner
Bros. pictures targeted to youth becomes a good kid thanks
to his friendship with a Belgian Malinois. The 14-year-olds
redemption is old hat, but the story has some earned,
tearful moments, and the transformation occurs through
organically developed plotting.
Boaz Yakin, who directs and co-wrote
the movie, is known for his most recent “Safe,”
about a girl with a numerical code buried in her head
who is pursued by a Russian mob and corrupt New York City
cops. Yakin is no stranger to tales of crime, exploiting
his talent in developing a story about a 14-year-old with
intimate knowledge of a small gang of gun smugglers, pursued
not only by men who would like to see him dead but by
a person he considered a pal who thinks twice and three
times before shooting the otherwise bland lad.
The film opens in Afghanistan as Raymond
and Pamela’s 20-something boy Kyle Wincott (Robbie
Arnell), a dog handler whose Belgian Malinois Max (played
by one Carlos), is trained to search for guns which the
local people are selling to the Taliban. In a firefight
he is killed, the death reported in the usual Marine style
by a pair of officers’ trip to the young man’s
parents, who decide to adopt the dog that was loved so
much by their deceased son. At first the angry Justin
wants nothing to do with the animal but with the encouragement
of the tough-talking teen Carmen (Mia Xitlali), a cousin
of Justin’s best friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuek). Tyler
Harne (Luke Kleintank), a Marine who fought in the same
outfit as Kyle, befriends the boy, gets a job from Justin’s
dad, but is not quite what he claims to be.
Carlos in the role of Max is not only
a war hero but a catalyst for the redemption of the alienated
young Justin. But Carlos is a big dog and therefore cannot
evoke the same tender emotions from an audience as small
terriers like Dale Rosenbloom’s Shiloh, an abused
beagle rescued by the 1996 movie’s heroes, or like
Greyfriar’s Bobby, the wee terrier who, after his
owner’s death guarded the man’s grave for
years until his own demise. Rather, “Max”
comes across as adult fare suitable for kids who will
not become too upset by a rogue Marine or too irritated
by a bratty best friend of Justin who gets hit every so
often by his cousin, Carmen. Josh Wiggins holds the movie
together as a whitebread fellow who comes of age, as they
say, after the death of his older brother.
"Ricki and the Flash"
Opens Friday, August 7, 2015
Sony Pictures Entertainment/TriStar Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Screenwriter: Diablo Cody
Starring: Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep, Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield, Kevin Kline
With “Ricki and the Flash” director Jonathan Demme and scripter Diablo Cody ask: can a woman who abandons her husband, daughter and two sons during what should have been the best years of their lives regain their love and trust by providing them with one of the most original wedding presents that a mom could give? While this makes the movie sound like a soap or a chick-flick, the film is so well staged and the lead performances so electrifying that “Ricki” should be considered must-see entertainment.
Not that Meryl Streep is capable of less than a riveting show, and here she has the more than capable assistance of her real-live daughter, Mamie Gummer, in an off-the-wall meltdown, and Rick Springfield as lead guitarist in a rock band known as the Flash and which is peopled by folks well past their third decade of life. In fact Streep herself, at the age of sixty-six, does a smashing job portraying a rock singer of about fifty-five, exhibiting the talent with her vocal cords that she demonstrated as the witch in Rob Marshall’s “Into the Woods.”
The film is in the good hands of director Jonathan Demme, familiar to most moviegoers for the gory “Silence of the Lambs” among a host of other winners, and Diablo Cody, creator the TV series “The United States of Tara.”
Meryl Streep stars as Linda aka Ricki, who long ago abandoned her family which includes Pete Brummel, her ex-husband (Kevin Kline); son Joshua (Sebastian Stan), who surprisingly invites his mom to his wedding; Joshua’s brother Adam; and most significantly her daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer). Julie’s situation echoes that of her mom in that her own husband had abandoned her, leading her to attempt suicide. When Ricki flies from L.A. to her former family home in Indianapolis with scarcely a dollar to her name (her band plays great rock in the local tavern albeit with compensation leaving Ricki to eke out a living as a cashier in “Total Foods”), Julie goes ballistic, her tantrum against the mom who wasn’t there matching the decibels of the many loud and rhythmic beats of the Flash.
Though ex-husband Pete takes in everything with calm, Ricki must face the pronounced hostility not only of Julie but the silent contempt of her two now-grown sons.
Declan Quinn is behind the lenses, filming mostly in Rye, New York, doing an especially good job of capturing the climactic wedding scene which finds Ricki making it all up to everybody with her surprise gift. The music is great, the performances lively, and all appear to be having a great time, Julie included, even when she shouts her contempt at her mother at the top of her lungs.
Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Colton Haynes,
Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
It’s easy to pick on Warner Brothers’
new action-disaster appropriation concoction, “San
Andreas.” Sure, it’s predictable and follows
a certain paint-by-numbers narrative (and what a shame
it doesn’t deviate) but it still provides some fantastic
thrills and a rollercoaster ride of destruction and devastation
that will keep most audiences glued to the screen and,
yes, on the edges of their ADHD seats.
The film borrows quite liberally from
a slew of 1970s disaster films like “The Towering
Inferno” (the final pull-away shot is almost the
same, only magnified), “Earthquake” and, even,
“The Poseidon Adventure.”
The one thing it fails at that those
films had success with (albeit sometimes haphazard) is
provide the audience with a gaggle of different characters
they get to know and root for as the mayhem takes hold
and the disaster hits. In “San Andreas,” screenwriter
Carlton Cuse gives us only a handful of people to care
about and no real nuance to their conflicts. In addition,
the central family has already lost a young girl so we
know that no one will die, which lessens the dramatic
tension significantly. (And if you see that as a spoiler,
then you’re either ten years old or have the IQ
of a ten-year-old).
The visuals, however, are spectacular.
The CGI is getting more and more realistic and less and
less cheesy with each new blockbuster of this caliber.
For basic plot we’ve got the notorious
San Andreas Fault initiating an earthquake of such magnitude
that it causes a series of other quakes to rock the west
coast, especially San Francisco. Johnson (in the Charlton
Heston role) plays a search and rescue helicopter pilot
estranged from his smart and beautiful wife (Carla Gugino),
who’s about to move in with her new, but possibly-shady
boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd). Johnson and Cugino have a resourceful
young daughter (Alexandra Daddario) who is given way too
much screen time, I’m guessing, to keep the young
boys happy in between scenes of calamity.
Suffice to say things go from bad to
really-truly bad in a matter of hours as the tectonic
plates decide to shift and place our family in peril.
But there is still love and hope for our couple (and if
you didn’t see that coming in the first ten minutes,
you’re an idiot).
The opening scene, showing an almost-fatality,
is a genius comment on the potentially deadly consequences
of not paying attention when you’re driving—of
course the moron lives. And therein lies one of the basic
problems with the film. In order to secure a certain rating,
there is little death seen so the stakes are never high
Still, for fans of catastrophe and nail-biting
action, there’s a lot to enjoy here like the Hoover
dam destruction sequence, the catastrophic quakes destroying
the City by the Bay as well as the Tsunami scenes.
And counting the number of deliveries
of the line, "Oh My God," proves a delight and
quite reminiscent of Leslie Nielson's serious utterance
of those same words as the "enormous wall of water"
is about to hit the S.S. Poseidon.
1970s film fans can also spot homages
to “Superman,” and even “The China Syndrome.”
As far as the performances go, Cugino
is the only actor who scratches beyond the cliché
surface and engages the audience.
One day, a studio is going to make a
gut-wrenchingly real homage to disaster films with a terrific
script filled with characters we relate (and don’t
need to relate) to, featuring a cast of current and once-current
movie stars. And then put them in true peril and unleash
the Tsunami or earthquake or fire or flood or meteor or…all
of the above, and it’s going to be amazing. For
now, fasten your 3-D glasses and hold on: “San Andreas”
is about to shake you up!
Opens May 29, 2015
Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Colton Haynes,
Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti
Reviewed by Havey Karten
New York may be ground zero, ever-mindful
of another attack by our enemies, but at least you can
negotiate with the Ayatollahs, can’t you? But you
cannot mess with Mother Nature. You might predict what
she will do next—tsunami, tornado, hurricane, earthquake,
sleet-storm—but you can’t do much to prevent
her from having her way. So while an 800-mile stretch
of California land is located on the San Andreas Fault,
an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter Scale may be
possible, but you can’t even retaliate after the
devastation. So while sunny California is tempting, I’ll
take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too.
If you want to know just how much devastation
an earthquake can drum up, you have Brad Peyton’s
“San Andreas,” a blockbuster with a script
(?) by Carlton Cuse from a story by André Fabrizio
and Jeremy Passmore. Peyton, known mostly for shorts and
TV dramas, here knocks out a disaster drama in which a
fire fighter named Ray (Dwayne Johnson) gets somewhat
more than fifteen minutes of fame by preventing at least
one fatality, namely that of his daughter Blake (Alexandra
Daddario). When “San Andreas” is not dealing
with one shock after another, something like part of our
planet’s having a multiple orgasm, he’s wondering
if he can win back his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), who has
just served him with divorce papers and is moving into
the quarters of her rich b.f. Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).
We learn that they split not because of any conflict in
personality but solely because their younger daughter
had died in a boating accident. But it looks like thanks
to the series of earthquakes in which husband and estranged
wife get together in a chopper to find their older daughter,
they are likely to rebuild, just as Ray predicts San Francisco
will rebuild. (In a concluding scene, an American flag
flies down out of nowhere to a crescendo of music in the
Blake is trapped in an underground garage
together with a young and comely British engineer, Ben
(Hugo Johnstone-Burt) who showed up for a job interview
with his precocious kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson),
who was cast to allow 11-year-olds in the movie audience
to relate to someone. So, what’s wrong with this
movie? For one thing, the story is predictable. Did you
really doubt that the daughter would be found and that
a romance would develop between her and her new friend?
Or that Ray and Emma would go their separate ways when
the disaster is over? Or that Prof. Lawrence Hayes’s
(Paul Giamatti) predictions of a number of after-shocks
would not take place? Or that Archie Panjabi does not
wish she could leave her newscasting role and return to
the far better drama on “The Good Wife?”
Even worse is the cornball dialogue.
Emma’s favorite expression is “Oh my God!”
Is that the most original thing a person can say under
the circumstances? Remember that this is a fictitious
story, one in which you’re hoping the dialogue would
not be of the everyday Facebook/Twitter type.
Worst of all, though, the CG goes overboard
in showing the apocalyptic devastation: building collapse
and crash into each other, a tsunami washes away the streets
(this, by the way, cannot be brought about by an earthquake),
and fires break out all over town; yet hardly anyone is
killed or injured. But if you’re the sort of person
who looks forward to summer blockbusters rather than someone
who might enjoy an upcoming revival of “Madame Bovary”
or its satirical cousin “Gemma Bovery,” you
pays your money and you watch all hell break loose from
the perfect safety of your theater seat.
The word “weird”
seems to define how many people categorize “The
Overnight,” the new indie brilliantly written and
directed by Patrick Brice. I heard three people describe
it that way (2 journalists) and have read quite a few
reviews that contained that word. Googling the definition
it reads, “suggesting something supernatural; uncanny.”
So basically people are using “weird,” as
a substitute for “odd,” or “out of the
ordinary” or just “strange.”
So, why such a strong,
unsettling word? Because people here in the U.S. are afraid
of anything that doesn’t conform to normalized views
of the way sexuality is depicted onscreen—even people
who consider themselves evolved and hip!
is almost revolutionary in it’s depiction of the
fluidity of sexual attraction. It’s the “Bob
and Carol and Ted and Alice” (stream it!) of the
new generation—much more accepting and truly cool
with, well, whatever, when it comes to sex.
It’s also a hilarious
comedy and features some stellar performances!
Please be warned, “The
Overnight” is not for the sexually squeamish (although
they should be forced to watch a la “A Clockwork
Orange” --stream that one, too!). At my Tribeca
press and industry screening, a young woman walked out
in a huff (a serious huff, making a grand, “I’m
offended” gesture before actually storming out),
and that was before the real shocker moment in the film—which
I will do my best not to give away!
The movie opens with a
happily married couple, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor
Schilling) smack in the middle of having sex. There’s
dirty talk with her instructing him (“Circles, sweetie”)
and validating him as he does his best to try and please
her. They, then, literally part and climax alone, right
before their little boy bursts into the room.
“It smells weird,”
the boy announces, using the word better than most critics,
since the smell is supernatural and uncanny to him. From
there the entire film can be defined as “smelling
weird,” if we are to use the word to mean, “bizarre,”
“different” and, dare I say, refreshing and
outrageously entertaining. But there I go gushing again.
Alex and Emily have recently
moved to Seattle and while on a playdate with his kid
in the park, Alex meets the VERY weird Kurt (Jason Schwartzman).
He’s weird in that supernatural and otherworldly
way (among other ways). “I’m sorta the mayor
of this area,” Kurt boasts, taking an instant liking
to Alex and inviting him and his wife over for pizza night.
When Alex and Emily meet
Kurt and his wife, Charlotte (Judith Godreche) at their
fancy home, things take a turn for the uber-weird as a
swinger vibe is almost instantly established. After they
put their kids to bed upstairs, we learn quite a bit more
about our foursome via a series of revealing, drink and
drug-induced, scenes that are intelligently written, deftly
directed and fearlessly acted.
“This is California,
maybe this is what parties are like.”
I won’t give any
more away because the delights come from the surprises—the
very weird (not really, if you’ve lived a little)
surprises that prove cathartic and redefining for the
All the performances are
fantastic. Scott has never been this good and handles
potentially ridiculous moments like a pro, playing it
real. Schwartzman is alarmingly funny (as he was in “Listen
Up Philip”), proving he’s more than just the
Wes Anderson’s go-to-guy for, well, weird. Schilling
shows us a very complicated person trying to figure out
what she wants. And Godreche is deliciously exotic and
smarter than she initially lets on.
is about desire, both sexual and spiritual and it isn’t
afraid to go balls-out (or another part of the male anatomy)
to probe certain taboo themes, making some fascinating
points in the process. It’s rare to see an American
film explore sex so brazenly. That will make the film
too weird for some and a cinematic tonic for others.
Laura Nix and the Yes Men's
"The Yes Men Are Revolting"
Opens Friday, June 12, 2015
Starring: Andy Bichlbaum,
Mike Bonano, Benadette Chandia Kodili, Gitz Crazyboy,
Tito Ybarra, Mike Mathieu, Leonid Vlassov
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Databased
on Rotten Tomatoes.
Just as you can catch more flies with
honey than with vinegar, you can brint down your enemies
with humor rather than with insults. One recent example
is Iran’s cartoon contest, awarding prizes for the
best cartoons that make fun of ISIS. (Don’t bother
drawing cartoons of the Prophet, though, as the Tehran
regime has only a selective sense of humor. But the point
remains: the enemy will become more aroused if you laugh
at its icons.)
The Yes Men, returning after its 2004
film “The Yes Men” which made fun of the World
Trade Organization by impersonating its leaders, and their
2010 movie “The Yes Men Fix the World” in
which they set up fake websites pretending to represent
big business, now take on the right-wingers who deny the
human factor in the current climate. Corporations with
interests in oil and coal refuse to believe that people—namely
the corporate entities that drill for these minerals—are
a principal factor in global warning, a phenomenon that
could raise temperatures dramatically and lead to an ever
worsening spiral of hurricanes and tsunamis. As the two
principals, Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, explain,
when the sun shines on the polar ice caps, the sun reflect
off them, which sends cooling temperatures around the
world. But when the polar icecaps are melting down, the
sun can no longer accomplish this feat, leading the planet
But who’s interested? The tricks
of Mother Nature seem too abstract and too remote by the
world’s population, thereby allowing the politicians
to ignore the threat and to concentrate on the felt needs
of the people rather than their real needs. The Yes Men
are not able to change the world, nor may they accomplish
even a little beyond entertaining us in our theater seats,
but they try. And they fail more than they succeed.
Of the two, Andy is first among equals,
making Mike a necessary soul brother and loyal follower.
Andy, who resembles David Letterman more than a young
Buddy Hackett is, like his partner, a middle-aged man
who is trying to keep his rebellious spirit alive by performing
feats that are entertainments for the people in the vicinity
but do not go over well with the authorities like the
local police and Coast Guard. In taking on big oil like
Shell, fat-cat lobbyists like the Chamber of Commerce,
the financial powers of Wall Street and the look-the-other-way
U.S. government, they open with a demonstration in the
water, wearing business suits, accenting the work of some
accomplices in blimp suits designed allegedly to protect
the users against global disaster.
As funny as this demo is, though, nothing
can outmatch Andy’s posing as a spokesperson for
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s deep-pocket
lobby in favor of corporate interests, announcing a carbon
tax on polluters and promising to use natural device like
solar panels to eliminate the need for oil by 2030. For
a short time, news channels believed the hoax, announcing
that beyond all prediction, Big Business now joins environmentalists
in diminishing the need for drilling. They travel to Uganda
to meet Chandia Kodili, accompanying her to a U.N. climate
change summit in Copenhagen, returning home to capture
videos of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The most unbelievable activity of the
two partners together with two members of the Indian community
in Arizona is to infiltrate a Homeland Security conference,
getting staid establishment people to stand up, head to
the walls, and dance as they at a wedding doing the Bunny
One wonders how these two, who are employed
by universities, get the time and money to travel around
the world. Finances are not discussed in this often hilarious
documentary. So far as we can see now, neither the hundreds’
strong Occupy Wall Street movement nor the activities
of these two fun guys have resulted in a moratorium on
oil drilling, but success or failure aside, these guys
have fun and so do we watching them from our comfortable
Tom Shoval’s "Youth"
In Hebrew with English subtitles.
Opens Friday, August 21, 2015
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella at New Directors/New Films
MARCH 21-APRIL 1 2014 |
Lincoln Center |
Museum of Modern Art
The ‘youth’ in Tom Shoval’s
fascinating debut feature happen to be two Israeli brothers
who will do anything to help their family out in a financial
The film begins with an awkward Shaul
(Eitan Cunio) following a cute girl, Dafna (Gita Amely)
as she walks home from high school. At first, we think
he may have a crush on her but the look on his face is
more agitating. Is he sexually obsessed with her? Not
quite. Well, maybe, but there’s no time for that.
Shaul goes home and bear hugs his older
brother, Yaki (David Cunio) who is back, briefly, from
his stint in the army—rifle glaringly in tow. Their
overbearing mom (Shirlii Deshe) and depressed father (Moshe
Ivgy) are proudly preparing a going away family meal for
the 18-year old, Yaki. But they’ve fallen on hard
times and appear to be in dire financial straits.
A bit later, the brothers follow Dafna
together and abduct her, shoving her onto a bus and taking
her to an empty bomb shelter under the building they live
in. The surreal scene on the bus shows just how indifferent
people can be to what is going on around them—a
harsh yet telling comment on the times we live in.
Shaul and Yaki plan to demand a ransom
of exactly $152,000 from Dafna’s father in exchange
for his daughter. The problem is it’s the Sabbath
and Dafna’s father is not answering the phone. What
As funny and ludicrous as some of this
sounds, it actually plays out pretty powerfully, moving
back and forth between the warmish home where Yaki’s
is lionized (for enlisting in the army) to the brutality
of Dafna’s treatment as she struggles to yell and
attempts to escape.
Writer/director Shoval does not make
the brothers apathetic (which has been done to death),
they’re simply driven and believe what they’re
doing is the best thing for their family. After all they’re
brought up to believe that might wills out. In a society
where young boys carry guns the way we used to carry lunchboxes—why
would they believe anything else? Their bedroom walls
are draped with U.S. action movie posters and when they
threaten Dafna, the dialogue sounds like words memorized
from a gangster movie.
Youth is most definitely a
disturbing comment on the American film influences abroad—specifically
violent action films—the kind that International
teens have come to worship. Rambo and Scarface are heroes. And apparently Shaul and Yaki’s parents
did nothing to discourage them from reveling in these
types of films—so much so that they seem to want
to recreate that kind of thuggish world.
The film cuts even deeper and subtly
condemns parents who teach their children that “without
money you’re nothing,” something their dad
truly believes. Youth also comments on how unfair
the economy is on middle class families (something we
can definitely relate to). Shoval is interested in paradox
As our protagonists, The Cunio brothers
look so much alike so sometimes it’s hard to tell
which is which, part of what captivates. And they’re
not classically handsome by any stretch. But they are
mesmerizing and give hauntingly believable, chilling performances.
Youth also boast a sinister
and troubling yet appropriate ending.
Opens Friday, May 22, 2015
Screenwriter: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird, story by Damon
Lindelof, Brad Bird, Jeff Jensen
Starring: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie,
Raffey Cassidy, Thomas Robinson
Walt Disney Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Databased
on Rotten Tomatoes.
How can kids be optimistic about
the future when so many movies that they see and books
that they read are full of gloom and doom? Think of the
classic novels: In “1984” big brother takes
over as he does in “Fahrenheit 451.” At least
there are ways to escape from the clutches of an overeager
Homeland Security, the most spiritual departure being
the colony of young bibliophiles in “Fahrenheit
451” who memorize books. But the future looks terrible
in “Logan’s Run,” where people over
30 evaporate. Colliding worlds, huge monsters, British
children raised to have their limbs harvested, an invasion
by pod people, and a fascist future where feeling is illegal—all
these dire works of cinema and literature make the next
decade or millennia look almost as bad as the twentieth
Leave to Disney, however, to counteract
visions of dystopia. In “Tomorrowland” we
get the not-entirely-original message that the young are
the future of the world, but not all young—only
those who are prodigies, who are extra smart, who are
able to do verbal battle with equally smart adults and
come out victorious. And these use not only their brains,
but destroy robots by swinging bats and turning off their
transmitters. With all this spirituality, nothing is left
to the imagination. Perhaps “Tomorrowland”
would do better on the printed page, where the readers
design their own productions—and in fact one of
the signs that pass by quickly in this movie, “Imagination
if more important than knowledge,” is belied by
the way director Brad Bird shows us every detail he wants
us to see, actually bombarding the screen with robotic
nuts and lightning bolts, and jet packs that whiz inventive
youth into the sky or leave them floundering to bounce
on the ground like a pebble skimming that surface of a
The idea that in a world facing war
on every continent, climate changes that race nuclear
weapons for which will destroy us first, it’s not
too late. But adults will not be there for us. It’s
all up to the youth.
And the youth in scripters Damon Lindelof
and director Brad Bird are Casey (Brittany Robertson),
a bright woman in her early twenties who lives with her
engineer dad; Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a freckle-faced
robot who appears in the 1964 World’s Fair and in
the present year without aging; and young Frank Walker
(Thomas Robinson), who bonds with Athena and at the age
of ten or so has invented a jet pack which would be great
if it worked. By contract, the principal adult, Frank
(George Clooney) is a burnt-out scientist who has isolated
himself in a farmhouse (the picture was shot mostly in
British Columbia); and a judge, David Nix (Hugh Laurie),
appropriately named as he nixes young Frank Walker’s
jet pack in a World’s Fair competition as did Frank’s
When Casey, who lives in Cape Canaveral,
receives a mysterious pin with the letter “T,”
she touches it and is transported instantly to a large
wheat field, a move that strikes her as awesome. In one
great shot, she is riding a monorail, touches the “T”
and continues her ride with nothing under her through
the wheat field. When Athena, the aforementioned robot,
talks Casey into visiting Frank, the movie turns thematically
into a debate between a cynic who sees only impending
doom and an optimist who envisions a bright future.
There is no question that considerable
money was spent in the awe-inspiring production design,
featuring good and bad robots (the latter equipped with
large weapon that can zap anything its beams touch). And
in her breakout performance, Britt Robertson—whom
sci-fi fans watched on TV in a Stephen King adaptation
of “Under the Dome” until she gets killed
off—convincingly runs through the gamut of emotions
from disgust to confusion to delirious optimism. But special
effects aside—they’re incredible but actually
take away from the spirituality of the movie—the
story is clumsily told, the message obvious and clichéd,
all full of sound and fury signifying little.
" Jonathan M. Goldstein, Tracy J. Brown and John Francis Daley's
Opens Friday, July 29, 2015
Screenwriter: Jonathan M. Goldstein, Tracy J. Brown, John Francis Daley
Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Keegan Michael Key
Warner Bros./New Line Cinema
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
When John Steinbeck wrote "Travels with Charley in Search of America," he was not with his family but only with his dog Charley. The two traveled across our fair land in their trailer, named Rocinante. Steinbeck hoped that, using his dog to encourage strangers to chat, he would find the soul of America and by the time his trip ended, he was mighty pleased. He may not have liked “progress” such as strip malls that have been ruining our roads for a half century or more, or the witches Sabbath he witnessed in New Orleans. But if he saw Jonathan Goldstein, Tracy J. Brown and John Francis Daley’s “Vacation,” he might be tempted to give up on our country, but only to a point. Traveling with Russell Griswold (Ed Helms), Russell’s wife Debbie (Christina Applegate), their sons James and Kevin (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins), Steinbeck would have witnessed scenes that would have a movie audience roaring with laughter but would cause great dismay in the mind of one of America’s favorite novelists.
This is because though "Vacation" has a sentimental (but not too sticky) conclusion, one that says that there is no substitute for family, the movie is filled with broad laughs from beginning to end with scarcely a dud in the package. “Vacation,” a sequel, if you will, to a series that includes “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (voted the 46th greatest comedy film of all time by Total Film magazine in 2000), features Ed Helms in the leading role of a pilot on a low-rent airline shuttling people from South Bend, Indiana to Chicago in eighteen minutes. The laughs are crackling from the opening, which finds Russell Griswold chatting with his co-pilot, the latter a doddering old fella who keeps repeating the same words and who, when Russ is taking a bathroom break, takes the plane up to 60,000 feet when it should be readying a landing.
John Steinbeck would not have been likely to witness a small child, Kevin Griswold using the “F” word repeatedly in front of his parents and older brother James, nor would he likely find a woman like Debbie, who looks innocent enough, but who is her own person and who takes a break from the long travels to visit her alma mater, replaying some sorority party stunts that prompted to her recall of sleeping with thirty guys during her days as a student.
Steinbeck would be amazed as well to see people puking, pooping and peeing; in fact in his day Hollywood barely allowed a man and a woman to lie in bed unless each had at least one leg on the floor. And the great author would turn away rather than watch the family of four jump into a natural steaming body of water, having ignored a sign that warns people to avoid jumping in because of raw sewage. (The clueless family massaged the feces into their faces thinking that it was a health-giving mud preparation.)
Rather than describe any more of the seemingly countless sketches, each funnier than the previous one, give yourself a vacation from your daily worries by taking in this delightful comedy, which also features Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, and a number of cameos by actors like Michael Peña.