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James Bobin's
"Alice Through The Looking Glass"
Opens Friday, May 27, 2016

Written by: Linda Woolverton from Lewis Carroll’s books

Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Mia Wasikowska, Sacha Baron Cohen

Walt Disney Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool


If Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, had an erotic interest in little girls as Morton N. Cohen’s book Lewis Carroll: A Biography and Donald Thomas’s Lewis Carroll: A Portrait with Background—both suggesting that the author’s sexual energies sought unconventional outlets—we wonder what Lewis Carroll would think of Mia Wasikowska in the role of Alice Kingsleigh. The lovely Australian-born Ms. Wasikowska may be an unusual choice to play Alice, who in the novel is ten years old, so the author might be intimidated by the twenty-six-year old Wasikowska.

Linda Woolverton, who ironed out a script for “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” appears to use the novels as an inspiration but is hardly putting the words into cinematic language except with a broad pencil. And James Bobin, whose chief directorial activity before this was the 2011 movie “The Muppets,” in which the title characters are challenged by an oil mogul, keeps the 113-film moving along.

You can’t fault the picture for eye candy. Consider production design, make-up, effects and costumes. And those are the features that are bound to attract an audience. Nonetheless, what’s most important in most movies are the stories. Maybe you have to be a small fry to understand what’s going on here, because for me the movie lacks narrative coherence. I had an easier time understanding Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad.” Still, this “Alice” is wondrous to behold but not so much to comprehend.

The story’s motivation is out front. When Alice (Mia Wasikowska) sees that something is wrong with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who seems nuttier than usual thanks to some trauma in his past and who may be about the depart from this world, she asks the personified Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to send her back in time to fix what’s bothering him. She borrows the Chronosphere, sought as well by the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), which allows Alice go through a looking glass and back to the past. She cannot change the past but she can learn from it (unlike most of us), and in the course of her travels she runs into a plethora of characters, none of whom are particularly interesting.

Johnny Depp is in his usual, hard to recognize element as the Mad Hatter (I preferred him a lot more as the similarly unrecognizable James Whitey Bulgar in “Black Mass”). He wears a big orange rug on his head and resembles a clown with big eyes and an abundance of fake lashes, all of which must have required him to hang out with the make-up crew for hours each day. His madness appears the result of a family death in a Jabberwocky event. Likewise made-up with some fancy effects are Tweedledee/Tweedleum (both played by Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the flying Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

And…that’s about where the story becomes convoluted and ultimately not particularly worth the trouble. There’s something about Alice’s role as the captain of a ship attacked by pirates, which opens the movie with a bang or two, and an effort by Alice’s former boyfriend Hamish (Leo Bill—who looks a lot like this film’s director) to take over that ship. Ultimately, Alice is an icon of female empowerment as she enjoins her mother Helen (Lindsay Duncan) from selling the ship, which would have forced Alice to be a clerk, more suitable for women than that of a skipper.

Rated PG. 113 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Woody Allen's
"CAFÉ SOCIETY"
Opens July 15, 2016

Written by: Woody Allen

Starring: Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Jeannie Berlin, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Ken Stott

Amazon Studios/Lionsgate

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool


If you have mature, adult taste in movies you may find yourself most entertained not by people with almost superhuman powers (think Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible,” not by psychos and ax murderers (think Freddy Krueger in “Nightmare on Elm Street”) but with neurotic people who by their awkwardness and indecision make for a kind of suspense that’s different from that of a blockbuster or spy story.  And who is better acquainted with neurosis than the writer-director who has made a brilliant career out of his own meshugas than Woody Allen?  Here’s a man who has not become bland and adjusted despite decades of psychoanalysis but one who is able to turn out a film every year, some great, others good, and a few clunkers such as when he departed from his comfort zone with the likes of “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.”

With “Café Society” Mr. Allen pays homage to the glorious days of 1930’s Hollywood when there were no TV’s and everyone went to the cinema weekly to see Barbara Stanwyck, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Greta Garbo and a host of glamorous people playing lives to which the typical middle-class American could not even bother aspiring.  In this romantic-comedy, in which even gangland murders are treated with chuckles, two young people start off with low aspirations, later rising in the world thanks to their connections. They are boy- and girl-next-door types, one from New York (Bobby Dorfman played by Jesse Eisenberg) and one in Beverly Hills (Vonnie played by Kristen Stewart).  A few years go by and they turn out sophisticated as folks can be.

Their story, as filmed in Beverly Hills and Pasadena, California, and Brooklyn, Central Park and Morningside Drive in New York, is a delight to the eye and ear, filled with the sights, sounds and colors of the thirties.  The production design, which includes a lavish nightclub (wherein we get the title of the film), the cars from the period, the double-breasted suits, all highlight the zeitgeist of this time in America.  If you believe what you see, and you will, you will see America as a land defined by the East and West Coast with gangsters, hotshot Hollywood agents, lawyers, stockbrokers and con artists as well as secretaries and even one “working girl.”

“Café Society” is thoroughly absorbing but a picture that could find some journalists complaining that it’s too fizzy and insubstantial.  Fizzy it is, which is part of its charm, but especially rich are the characterizations by Steve Carell as Uncle Phil, a successful entertainment agent who has moved from New York to Hollywood; Kristen Stewart as Vonnie, who serves as Phil’s secretary with benefits; Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby Dorfman as the awkward fellow who transplants himself from New York to L.A. and shows us how to succeed in business without really trying.

This time Woody Allen has no problem identifying his principal characters as Jewish, including one Member of the Tribe who is an outright gangster (Corey Stoll as Ben Dorfman), and two folks who are lower-middle-class products of 1930’s Jews living in a humble Brooklyn residence (Jeannie Berlin as Rose and Ken Stott as Marty).

The romantic tone arises originally from a triangle as both Phil and Bobby are in love with Phil’s secretary, Vonnie, but will emerge as an improbable rectangle when marital situations change after a wrenching period of indecision.  Vonnie assures the passionate Bobby that she has a boyfriend, one that will be surprising to Bobby when his identity if revealed, but it’s clear that Vonnie has eyes for Bobby as well, especially considering that the two are about the same age. 

When Bobby, love unrequited, returns humbly to New York, though, he is set up in business by his gangster brother running a posh nightclub, while Bobby, who has not forgotten Vonnie for a moment, links up with the sophisticated Veronica (Blake Lively).

Young people seeing the film will learn something about the high times of the thirties which, as stated before comes across as authentic thanks to Santo Loquasto’s production design, the classy men costumed by Suzy Benzinger with bespoke suits.  The witty dialogue (what else did you expect from a Woody Allen enterprise?) ranges from hard-core gangster to innocent romance to high-end conversation involving hot stock tips and Hollywood gossip.

This is a joyful movie, one nicely rated PG-13 to bring in the younger folks.

Rated PG-13.  96 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



Jacques Audiard
"Dheepan"
Opens May 6, 2016


Written by: Noé Debré, Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard

Starring: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers, Marc Zinga

Sundance Selects

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool, d-based on Rotten Tomatoes

Jacques Audiard may not have gone a giant step further with “Dheepan” than he did with the searing “Un prophèt,” which finds a teen French-Arab man trying to find his way in a jail beset with gang violence between Corsicans and Muslims, but he comes close enough. “Dheepan,” which is named for the principal character Dheepan Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), may deal with the aftermath of a civil war in a country whose position on the world map is unknown by many Americans. Still we today are privy to a blizzard of news items about a similar drama, that of Syrian refugees in Europe.

Audiard wants us to see that the fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war is not unknown in Western Europe, and that one trio of refugees seeking asylum in France wind up in a battleground that is different in many ways but is nonetheless a reminder that violence is a problem in the French suburbs just as it was in an island nation south of India.

As the titled character, Jesuthasan performs in the role of a man who had been a child Tamil Tiger soldier in the last days of the Sri Lanka civil war and is lucky to get out alive when the Tigers lose to the government forces. From a refugee camp, smuggled himself out of the country and takes a boat to France, but in order to have a chance for asylum, he is advised to create a family. With the passport of a dead man, he teams us with Yalini (Kalieaswri Srinivasan) and an orphan girl of nine years, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), who will pose as wife and daughter. Gaining asylum through the usual lies and half-truths, i.e. “I was tortured and my relatives were killed,” he is assigned to a tough northeastern suburb, Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, bagging the job as a caretaker for a complex that houses rival drug gangs while his “wife” operates as a health aide to an infirm, elderly man who apparently had been an active member of a gang. The housing block’s French name translates as “the meadow,” this is hardly the accurate way to describe an area that houses thugs with machine guns.

Though at first Dheepan and Yalini have no feelings for each other, and for her part Yalini cares nothing about the orphan with whom they travel, their living together under one roof appears to indicate that proximity breeds affection. Their bond is hardly sweetness and light, however, with Yalini determined to move to London to be with her cousin and their “daughter” facing problems finding friends in school when nobody wants to play with her and facing cruel treatment from her “mother” as well

It’s quite possible that Yalini’s bonds of affection for Dheepan are evoked when she has a few conversations with Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), who becomes fond of Yalini’s cooking. The film’s principal humor arises when Brahim wonders why Sinhalese like Yalini move their heads around to affirm “yes” (or maybe “no”), though his curiosity of South Asian customs ends there, since finding out where Sri Lanka is located leads to his response, “whatever.”

The film takes a sudden turn during the concluding half hour, when Dheepan, disgusted with the gun violence paints a white line in the middle of the grounds declaring his side of the line a no-fire zone, but his actions mean nothing to the thugs. Thus “Dheepan” becomes a vigilante film, which may attract the cheers of some in the audience but others of a more sophisticated bent might groan that the movie has degenerated into a Charles Bronson lookalike.

Largely because of Jesuthasan’s vivid performance, the film won the Palme d’Or prize, the top award in Cannes, beating out Laszlo Nemes’s Hungarian Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” which took the Grand Prix. To my knowledge this is the only time that a movie principally in the Tamil language took the gold with ensemble performances principally by non-professional actors, knocking out a searing story that is at once a love story, a social drama, a film noir and a genre film. “Dheepan” was filmed in India’s Tamil Nadu and in France.

Audience members curious to learn more about Jesuthasan will find that he had jointed the Tamil Tigers as a teen, got disillusioned, left the radicals, moved to Thailand, flew to Czechoslovakia on a fake Malaysian passport, is deported to Bangkok, and headed for French with a fake French passport. Not unlike his character, he sought asylum, lived in the banlieue of Paris, and cleaned a hotel at Disneyland Paris. He has only a 10th grade education, cannot read English or French, but is a whiz at the Tamil language. His principal novel is “Gorilla” about a Tamil Tiger child soldier, which means that he not only writes what he knows but acts on that basis.

He called France one of the best countries for refugees, though things may change if Marie Le Pen’s National Front wins the next nationwide election.

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


Ira Sachs'
"Little Men"
Opens Friday, August 5, 2016


Written by: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Michael Barbieri, Theo Taplitz, Alfred Molina

Magnolia Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe ShowBiz d-based on Rotten Tomatoes


While many critics will find that Ira Sachs’ “Little Men” runs like a sequel to the director’s “Love is Strange,” I see a connection to Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman.”  Willy Loman, the salesman of Miller’s play, received a guarantee from the now departed owner of his business that he could keep his job for life.  However, both his father and the employer died, the neighborhood is changing, and the new boss throws Willy out for poor performance.  In “Little Men,” Leonor Calvelli (Paulina García), a Chilean-American dressmaker in Brooklyn, had been able to pay much less rent than the store could have brought in thanks to Max, the store’s landlord.  But when Max dies, his son Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear), does not have the same attachment to Leonor and is under pressure from his sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) to raise the rent to market value.  Brian does not want to play hatchet man, but since he is a failed actor bringing in meager money and being supported by his psychotherapist wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), he tries to break the news to Leonor in a nuanced talk but her response, which may have something to do with her Chilean pride, is standoff-ish and hostile.

“Little Men” could be looked on as a drama of gentrification were it not focused more on two thirteen-year-old boys of different personalities who bond over video games; the outgoing Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri), who is the dressmaker’s son, and Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz), in the role of the landlord’s boy.  Director Sachs gets momentum out of scenes in middle school, where the two boys, one hoping to be an artist and the other an actor, deal with their teachers and attend a dance for the kids.  In one humorous scene, would-be actor Tony engages in an exercise with his energetic drama teacher, both shouting the same outcries at each other, which shows us that this kid may well land on Broadway in a dozen years.  Adolescent friendship is the theme, more specifically what happens when two little men approaching a maturity that gives them an interest in their parents’ business, will be led out of the relative innocence of childhood to gain insight into what lies ahead. 

At fifty-three years of age, Greg Kinnear has lost none of the striking good looks and mellifluous voice, which doesn’t hurt toward the making of a gem of a little movie, probably sustained on a small budget, one that gives us a mirror on the joys of young friendship, with the more introverted Jake surprised that he has the support of a new pal.  Filming took place in Brooklyn in a neighborhood that looks like Bay Ridge, with neat shots of the two youths zooming around on roller skates and scooter, experimenting with the silent treatment as a way of manipulating their parents before they are made aware of their money problems.  Alfred Molina shows up in a small role as Leonor’s lawyer: even his performance is spot on in a movie that projects an authenticity about kids growing up and parents facing adult problems.

Rated PG.  85 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


Maïwenns
"My King (Mon roi)"
Opens Friday, August 12, 2016

Film Movement
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, 411 Celeb

Written by: Maiwenn, Etienne Comar

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Bercot, Louis Garrel, Isild Le Besco, Chrystèle Saint-Louis

When you think of classic movies about marriage, which like life itself has ups and downs, you think of “Jules and Jim” and “A Man and a Woman.” “My King” may well join those two since it’s the best film I’ve seen in a long time about the fierce forces that erupt during a courtship and a marriage.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s anchored by two of France’s magnificent performers, Emmanuelle Bercot (who won Best Actress at Cannes in 2015), and Vincent Cassel (who went slumming last month as the villain in “Jason Bourne”).  “My King” is ferocious, bringing to mind whose energy reminds one of a lesser movie, Danny De Vito’s “The War of the Roses,” which involved a swinging fight between a man and a woman on a chandelier.  But neither Michael Douglas nor Kathleen Turner, however gripping in that 1989 movie, can begin to match the sheer talent of Bercot and Cassel, whose every move, whether laughing exuberantly or breaking a glass in a justified tantrum, signal sheer chemistry.

Maïwenn, whose “Polisse” focused on the emotional strain of the French police force’s Child Protection Unit—the divorces, the nervous breakdowns the adulteries—clues us in that this talented actress, director and writer would come up with a movie so powerful that it could make romantic couples in the audience choose paradoxically either to remain single or to step right up to the altar with the kind of optimism that says, “I can be like these two and can avoid the pitfalls that brought both to sad, if not tragic, ends.”

Maïwenn, who co-wrote the screenplay with Etienne Comar (“Of Gods and Men”), often lets the two principals go at each other in a series of rapid-fire improvisations, particularly when they banter back and forth, quickly answering each other’s arguments by evoking others, all to no good end.  She frames the action in a rehabilitation center, which, through the generous Bernie-Sanders-style social benefits allows temporarily disabled French people to live on the grounds or a physical therapy center and work its magic through exercises in the pool and in the gym. 

Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) shows up in a prologue, about to ski down a hill at a resort.  We don’t see the accident but we watch her, looking sad, now ten years post-meeting Georgio (Vincent Cassel).  The psychologist on duty reminds her that she may have been attempting suicide, consciously or otherwise.  This is especially true when the knee is the part of the
body that’s torn.  Flashbacks and flash-forwards ensue.

When you watch the ecstasy of the two in a large number of diverse scenes—in a pharmacy, in a trendy restaurant, in their living quarters as they mate with passion so great, so needful of immediate expression, that Giorgio dismisses the employees in his restaurant early to get it on with Tony on the metal table. 

Initially, Giorgio meets Tony some time after they once had a one-night stand. They circle each other with the flirtatiousness of teenagers.  They are opposites in some ways.  He is extroverted, charismatic; she, a criminal lawyer, is fragile and insecure resulting from a divorce.  Her brother, Solal (Louis Garrel), sees right away that they should have ended their meeting with, at best, another one-night stand, and predicts that however joyful they are, they will eventually destroy each other.

Maybe the story itself is old hat, since after all, life has only a few basic stories to tell.  What’s here?  Courtship, pregnancy, marriage, adultery. Unfortunately for the bond between Georgio and Tony, Georgio retains a thing for a previous girlfriend, Agnès (Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin) a model he dated, who is now suicidal.  Several times during the course of the ten years’ relationship of Georgio and Tony, they could conceivably cause an audience, perhaps wiser than they, to shout at the screen, “He’s not for you!  Give him up fast!”  You could say that for many a movie about love and marriage, but you won’t find another pair of actors who could knock you off the edge of your seat with their performance in this story.

It has been said that the very aspects of someone that draws you to him are the same factors that will cause a split.  In this case, she is drawn by his charisma.  But so are other women, and that’s the rub.  Yet despite Georgio’s adulterous events (he rents a separate apartment down the block with the excuse “When we get into each other’s faces, we can take a time-out”), one suspects that a woman who had been relatively stable before meeting him becomes fascinated with a man who makes her laugh—and scream during sex.  But Georgio has some skeletons in his closet that would tear apart the marriage even if he were loyal exclusively to Tony

Unrated.  130 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



Jodie Foster's
"Money Monster"
Opens May 13, 2016

Written by: Alan DiFiore, Jamie Linden, Jim Kouf

Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West

Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe ShowBiz d-based on Rotten Tomatoes

In commenting on the writings of Thomas Malthus, Thomas Carlyle said in 1849 that economics was the “dismal science.” Carlyle is probably not alive to see Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” but this film might change his mind. By “dismal” he did not mean that economics was boring, but rather that it offered little hope for humankind, as population was outpacing the food supply. “Money Monster” telegraphs the point that perhaps the middle class here will not go hungry, but with corrupt corporation CEO’s like one Walt Camby (Dominic West), we’re going to hell anyway. On the other hand, with newscasters like Lee Gates (George Clooney) taking action against the crooks like your favorite superhero, there may indeed be some hope left.

I feel sorry for the good folks who teach Economics in college or high school when their students see this movie, because one day later, the young people in their classes who do not put a brake on their vocal opinions might just say, “Hey, teach, or professor: you’re boring,” and for sure there is no teacher alive who can be as exciting every day as those who populate Jodie Foster’s offering.

Starting at a furious pace, one likely to garner Nielsen ratings through the roof, Lee Gates discusses the financial scene like no Wall Street pundit Starting with a brief segment of hip-hop in which he joins with a couple of pros, he stands in front of a row of huge TV screens which are themselves as nervous as a caffeine-driven day trader—the hotshots who don’t hold stocks for years like your grandparents did but might buy and sell a given company in a matter of minutes. All the technology that a news program uses today is here and then some--a dazzling array of graphs and street scenes that are a testament to the fine work of the picture’s graphics designers and production values people.

Toward the beginning of the day’s account, Lee, whose earphones puts him in instant touch with his director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), has an uninvited guest. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), pretending to deliver a package, bolts onto the stage, pulls a gun, straps a bomb to Lee’s vest, and begins a tirade—after insisting that Patty put back the cameras to hear his manifesto. He insists that he is not the criminal but rather the people who run the companies’ finances, and Lee in particular for encouraging his viewers to invest in a tech company that went south. Kyle at first listens to Lee’s suggestion that he can restore the $60,000 that Kyle lost thanks to Lee’s bad advice, even accusing him—and proving this on the TV screen—that he had called that company “as safe as the banks.” Minutes later, he no longer wants the money but prefers an apology.

As people throughout New York, then the U.S., and then the rest of the world see their own newscasters stop what they’re doing to photograph what looks more like a reality show than a financial news program, Lee manages to convince the distraught man that there is something rotten in the company’s chief officer, Walt Camby. Kyle demands to speak to him in order to expose him as a crook.

Crowd scenes abound, particularly on the streets of New York as Lee and Kyle head out to meet this CEO followed by the entire New York police force and half of the people previous strolling casually through New York’s financial district. Director Jodie Foster, using Alan DiFiore, Jamie Linden and Jim Louf’s darkly humorous and always suspense-inducing script, ensures that the audience will not be allowed to take a breath, though Julia Roberts as the newscaster’s director doesn’t have all that much to do other than sitting by the cameras. Kyle Budwell takes principal honors as a convincing guy, the sort who’d vote for Bernie Sanders, and who represents the views of people who are not convinced that the Republican front-runner can be “amazing.”

Rated R. 90 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


Susanna White's
"Our Kind of Traitor"
Opens Friday, May 1, 2016

Written by: Hossein Amini from John le Carré’s novel

Starring:: Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis, Stellan Skarsgård

Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool


College professors are sometimes said to be living in an ivory tower, but those who teach sciences and business administration would hardly be in the same room as poetry teachers. Poetry professors together with members of the philosophy department, though, would have adjoining rooms in the tower penthouse. They are about the last people you would suspect to get involved with the Russian mafia, particularly if they are British citizens and work in a London university.

The plot, from the book by John Le Carré, may seem difficult to believe, but with Hossein Amini’s adaptation of the le Carré novel of the same name, directed smartly by Susanna White, we in the theater audience would pronounce the at-first incredible story as one that slides right over our natural, cynical resistance.

Susanna White, whose “Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle” focuses on a teacher’s coming to term with the past during a trip to Salisbury cathedral, and “Nancy McFee Returns,” about a woman who teaches some brats some lessons when her husband is away at war, may appear to have little to do with a cerebral, yet physically demanding movie like “Our Kind of Traitor.” But she owes a debt to Iranian-born scripter Hossein Amini, whose script for “The Dying of the Light,” about an aid worker murdered in Somalia gives him the credentials for this le Carré adapation.

With a forceful performance from Stellan Skargård as Dima, a leading Russian mobster specializing in the laundering of billions of dollars, “Our Kind of Traitor” takes off with a bang when a family is executed by machine gun on a stretch of road, a blockade all but guaranteeing the Mafia promise to kill not only its enemies but the enemies’ wife and brood as well.

Dima invites Perry (Ewan McGregor) to a party when they two meet during a vacation in Marrakesh (Antigua in the book). Perry has been on a romantic getaway with his more financially successful wife Gail (Naomie Harris), Perry and a wary Dima attend a lavish party featuring hookers on horseback and fireworks that would rival Macy’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in New York. After the two get to know each other on a tennis court, Dima asks Perry to carry a USB devise to MI6 in London, a drive that implicates quite a few higher-ups in the British Parliament with attachments to the Mafia. Perry had been seduced by sympathizing with Dima’s plea that the Russian’s family are slated for execution. At that point Perry, together with Gail, manages to smuggle the small USB to MI6’s Hector (Damian Lewis), who is obsessed with nailing the traitors in Britain who are taking dirty money from the Russian mobsters.

“Our Kind of Traitor” takes us from Marrakesh to the Moscow, from the French Alps and Paris to Bern and the UK with some filming by Anthony Dod Mantle in Finland. This film dispenses with much of the intellectualism of le Carré’s better known “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” to provide a physicality involving a getaway by helicopter, and some random beatings that gives Skarsgård a chance to eat up the scenery at the expense of a hirsute patsy played McGregor. It’s great to see an out-and-out thriller, a cat-and-mouse game with an unpredictable conclusion and a last-minute introduction of justice.

Unrated. 107 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




James DeMonaco's
"The Purge: Election Year"
Opens Friday, July 1, 2016

 
Written by: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Ethan Phillips, Raymond J. Barry

Universal Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool


When President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was passed without a single Republican vote, the GOP attacked it fiercely, but the most off-the-wall criticism was by Sarah Palin, running for Vice President on a ticket with John McCain.  Palin insisted that the POTUS would set up death panels, committees of doctors who could decide to pull the plug on granny rather than give her all the medical assistance she was due.  The aim of the Democratic administration, they said, was to save money on government-financed health care, predicted to be budget busting sometime in the near future.  If Ms. Palin were to see “The Purge: Election Year,” which takes place in Washington DC in the year 2025, she would say (not an exact quote), “I told you so!  Look what’s happening!  The federal government has declared a Purge Night each year wherein for a 12-hour period, crimes would not be punished, with murder the most recommended infraction.”

Allegedly, thirty percent of people believed Sarah back in our own time, and who knows what percentage might have their beliefs strengthened by the trio of “Purge” movies, in which the President by executive order allowed blood purges annually from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and bring on the heavy artillery.

This time, though, in 2025, there is opposition to the U.S. President, who is a man who wants to cut the budget not only on health care but on payments to the poor, who are considered to be easier targets than the well-off.  Opposing the government is Senator Charlene ‘Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), running for President on a ticket that would end the purge, opposed by a wacko “minister” with a bloodthirsty congregation that would like nothing better to make Charlie’s assassination a top priority.  As dusk descends on DC, Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) takes the job of protecting the senator, armed with only a pistol, though the massive firepower of the thugs who roam the streets dressed in masks that channel the Carnival in Rio with the yearly Halloween parade in Greenwich Village.  Never mind that there must be a place for high government officials in or near the capitol building.  The senator winds up in a local bodega run by “Joe,” a fellow who says that “this store is all I’ve got,” and who conducts lively conversations with a band of friendly people.  Some of these down-home folks will use some equally fierce firepower against the purge people (and especially against a woman of about twenty who was caught stealing candy in the store and who could make a sailor blush in her opinions about poor Joe).

That’s about the plot of this movie, filmed in D.C and in Providence and Woonsocket Rhode Island but which could just as soon have been filmed off a video game.  Bullets are flying, crashing into buildings and forming hundreds of perforations in the concrete, realistically captured on camera that not only allows us to see the holes as they are formed, but also features heads exploding as the weaponry sinks into foreheads of people who are either masked or innocently walking around outdoors.  All of which makes one wonder why the senator is protected only by a vest rather than full, medieval body armor. 

There’s not too much time for dialogue, which is a blessing given the folksy banality of the talk.  This is a film for fans of vid-games, many of whom in the screening I attended applauded as the bad guys are taken out.  And if Sarah Palin is reading this review, as I’m sure she will, one hopes she is reminded that Purge Night 2025 is fiction.  Or is it?

Rated R.  105 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Todd Phillips'
"War Dogs"
Opens Friday, August 19, 2016

Written by: Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic, Stephen Chin

Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Shaun Toub

Warner Bros

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool


This is the age of entrepreneurship, when a couple of twenty-somethings can go into a garage, exploit some new technology, and sell the company for millions, even billions.  Mark Zuckerberg did it, but he was no slacker.  He went to Phillips Exeter Academy and then to Harvard and can address an audience in China with his fluent Mandarin.  So: do you have to be bright to be an entrepreneur?  Just ask Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), two stoners who, for all we know, barely made it out of high school.  Yet they outsmart major corporations in bidding for U.S. government contacts that would make them multi-millionaires.  There was ultimately some problem with their partnership arrangement, but the same was true for Zuckerberg.  They also had some problems with the FBI, but what’s a sentence to house arrest or a few years’ incarceration when you make that kind of money and work at something more exciting than a 9- 5 in a cubical staring at a screen?  And why give thirty or forty percent of your earnings to the federal, state and city governments when you can have the government pay you?

Among those who think this way are Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, who get together years after their friendship in junior high school with a plan that apparently nobody else thought of.  With Efraim as the leader and motivating force in a bold strike of entrepreneurship, they get the idea to go for the crumbs and not the pie.  As Efraim explains, big business goes after the big government contracts to supply the U.S. armed forces with what they need to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Nobody challenges them.  But the big boys ignore the money that could be made by looking at the small contracts hardly worth the effort for the likes of IBM and Lockheed.  Using computers, the two young men track down what the government needs for the men and women fighting overseas without going into battle themselves. They see a potential contract to supply our forces with one hundred million rounds of bullets which are currently located in a warehouse in Albania.  With the help of Henry (Bradley Cooper), an arms dealer who is on the terrorist list, they travel not only to Tirana but to the Triangle of Death in Iraq, transporting Beretta guns to the captain in Baghdad’s Green Zone, receiving millions in return.

What’s amazing?  The story is true.  Captured in print by Gay Lawson’s Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes,” the two war dogs (a pejorative for people who make money without risking their lives) get off their couches and put down their bongs to score a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm the Afghan Army.

The script by Jason Smilovic, Stephen Chin and the director describes the adventures of these two wholly different best friends—David is a responsible guy who is licensed as a massage therapist with a sideline of selling sheets to old folks’ homes and has a pregnant girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas).  Efraim has never pursued a legit business and agrees with David that “jerking off old men” (David doesn’t) is no way to make a living and support a girlfriend and baby.

“War Dogs” could be the subject of a documentary, one which Michael Moore could do a job with, but prospers as a comedy-drama from direction by Todd Phillips, well-known to mostly youthful movie fans for “Hangover” (three buddies at a bachelor party try to locate a missing bachelor in time for the wedding).  Nor does it hurt to cast a pair of comic geniuses, guaranteeing a story that is brisk and energetic throughout.  Miles Teller plays straight man, having to lie to his girlfriend about his new business, while Jonah Hill, unencumbered by family relations, performs as the devil-may-care motivational speaker, if you will.  No matter to Efraim that traveling from Jordan to Baghdad, they have to pass through the Triangle of Death soon after crossing the border to Iraq: he is responsible to nobody back home.

Their adventures in Las Vegas, Jordan, Iraq and Albania are each full of thrills and humor, backstabbing and profiteering.  Even the opening scene signals Efraim’s persona.  Looking to score some weed from a group of pushers, he gets ripped off, threatened with a pistol, but scares the tough guys away when he produces an automatic from the trunk of his car, firing it into the air, all to the amazement of his sedate friend David.

Comic timing is masterful, established by Jeff Groth’s superb editing, Todd Philips’ direction, and Teller and Hill’s acting, the serious parts merging seamlessly into the mirthful story.    Lawrence Sher photographs the enterprise in Morocco to take the place of Jordan, Romania substituting for Albania, and on location in Miami Beach.

Rated R.  115 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


 

 





 


 

 

 

 

 

 


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