Category: Harvey Karten



Recall this recent news item. A family in California hired a maid/nanny to take care of their house. She was fine for a while, but soon she began to act like Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, the guy whose boss asked why he stopped working and would not leave the firm and getting the reply “I prefer not to.” This nanny, who scammed many people before, refused to leave the house, taking advantage of an odd California law that states that if you offer a bed and board to a person, she has certain proprietary rights and can be evicted only by going through a few months of proceeding. In other words, sometimes it doesn’t pay to hire a maid.


Ever since that disastrous choice in the Garden of Eden, the world has been going to hell. It’s no wonder that our young people have stopped reading books and newspapers and train their smart phones not to CNN nor NY Times nor Huffington Post, but instead communicate frantically with their friends via SMS. Not for them a great concern with the explosive Middle East, the fights in the U.S. Congress, the potential revival of the bad old Soviet Union. With CALVARY Michael McDonagh deals with allegorical impact on the sad state of affairs, but instead of painting on the world’s canvas, he restricts himself to a tiny community on the west coast of Ireland (filmed largely in County Sligo in the town of Easkey and on Streedagh Beach). You’d think that the diverse sort on whom he trains his lenses would be found in New York or Chicago, but no, even in a community that you could virtually count on your fingers and toes, you have a group of sad characters who for one reason or another feel lost, even suicidal.


It’s a fact that rap music has more white customers than black, so there is indeed a crossover appeal of African-American music and dance. It’s no secret that soul, with James Brown as its leading figure, has crossed over as well, making Tate Taylor’s GET ON UP a potential box office blockbuster with audiences of all denominations. Whether young African-Americans will get on up for the movie is anybody’s guess given the monopolizing power of rap with this energetic group.


Living close to nature is not what it’s cracked up to be. Yeah, it’s fine for a week, if you’re into camping, but when you have to live like a feral animal in the hills of East Tennessee, virtually homeless with nary a shack within a mile, you could get mighty lonely—and dirty. But that’s not the least of it. Dirty he is, but Lester Ballard (played in a tour-de-force, theatrical performance by Scott Haze), tolerates his own presumably smelly body and then some. As Tennessee’s most notorious necrophiliac, he had sexual relations with at least two dead bodies, one, a woman who was already gone in a seeming suicide pact with a man, and another that he shot and dragged back like a cave man to wooden abode. Eating the dead? Talk about a Paleolithic diet!


When Terry Leonard made the 1987 action thriller DEATH BEFORE DISHOUR, he was setting the stage for one Gunnery Sgt. Burns to rescue Marines taken hostage in the Middle East. These Marines believe that nothing is worse than dishonor, meaning that they themselves would rather die than suffer a fate worse than death. It’s bizarre to think, however, that there are thousands of families that would rather kill what they consider their wayward daughters than allow themselves to be criticized by neighbors or feel humiliated in their own religious beliefs. In fact, though 5,000 Islamic killings of this nature are recorded annually, it’s believed that the figure is closer to 20,000 per year.


At the movie’s conclusion, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) states: “We’ve had life for a billion years. Now we know what to do with it.” What does she think we should do with our lives? Presumably we should be able to stare at a gun and watch the bullets fall out harmlessly to the ground; look at a bunch of gangsters pointing AK-47s at us and have them drop their pieces and fly to the ceiling flaying impotently; conjure up dinosaurs and disappear just as they are about to gobble you up; and drive effortlessly down a one-way highway while watching cars pile up helplessly.


What is it like to be a spy? Some cynics say that it’s a game indulged by its proponents; that our spies know their spies and vice versa, and the groups, however hostile their countries are to each other, simply exchange information freely, thereby keeping their jobs. Others, less cynical and more naive, think that spies are like 007, licensed to kill, engaged in high stakes acrobatics in pursuit of subversives.


While watching THE PURGE: ANARCHY, those of us of a certain age may think back to their childhood, perhaps a time before Disneyland and Disneyworld, when you were grateful to take a few minutes on Coney Island’s Ghost ride. For twenty cents (this was in 1951 when I was privileged to sit on a rickety car), you travel a winding path through a dark tunnel. Every few seconds, things that go bump in the night would lunge toward you. First a skeleton would virtually wrap his arms around your neck. You pull back. Then a figure that looks like a prequel to the Freddy Kruger series would make a murderous laugh. When you finish your two dimes’ worth, you were hardly shaking with fear. In fact, you were laughing to think that anyone would be terrified. The Ghost ride was used more by teenagers looking to make out in the dark for a few minutes when such activity was considered risqué in the Fifties.


A typical five-star hotel in the more expensive areas of Europe, Morocco and China would cost, figure, oh, $700 a night and up. And that doesn’t include the enormous tip that would be expected for your butler, assigned to you only, waiting in the hall at your beck and call with room service treats that, of course, would be charged to your bill. Imagine having a job that would take you from one such hotel to another, from one romantic country to the others, with all airfare and taxis paid for and with the power to determine the fate of each establishment to some extent. Would you like that? Probably, and Irene (Margherita Buy), the principal character in Maria Sole Tognazzi’s dramatic comedy A FIVE STAR LIFE (I TRAVEL ALONE in its Italian title), is not exactly miserable. But believe it or not, she feels that she is missing something, and that something is family, a person or group of persons that she could love and who love her back and who provide for this otherwise independent person an anchor of stability. Poor Irene. But she can also laugh at herself for her longing, which is why Tognazzi’s wholly delightful tale is light enough to be called comedy with sufficient weight to be named a drama as well.


Everybody’s fingerprints are unique. No two people have the same ones. We know this because in the movies, detectives can flash thousands of fingerprints across the screen and, despite the vast numbers are able to pinpoint which ones match the model. In other words, nobody has yet found two living people with the same prints. What would you think, though, if you discovered that a guy has the same fingerprints as someone who recently died and whose prints had been on file? I, for one, would suspect there’s some kind of soul brother impact there, or even more far out, that this living person is the reincarnation of the departed one. That’s a major motif in Mike Cahill’s I ORIGINS, which might more accurately be called “Eye Origins,” because a biologist, determined to disprove the theory of Intelligent Design, that the eye had been perfectly formed since the beginning and not evolved via a succession of 12 steps, is working to discover those very 12 steps. But while that is his goal at first, he comes to realize something more dramatic, and that insight, a coup de theatre if you will, has the most resonance for the movie audience.