Ed Koch Movie's Reviews

“Incendies” (+)

May 2, 2011

          A superb, sleeper film not to be missed. 

          The movie opens in Quebec, Canada, with a notary, Jean (Remy Girard), reading the will of Nawal (Lubna Azabal) to her two adult twins:  Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette).  Nawal’s instructions are bizarre.  She states that she is not to have a proper burial with headstone and epitaph until the twins find their father whom they never knew and their brother whom they never knew existed.  Jeanne and Simon are instructed to give each of them a letter from their now deceased mother. 

          Bizarre yes, but also fascinating.  Flashbacks of Nawal’s early life are shown.  (Although the country is never named, it is clearly the Republic of Lebanon.)  When Nawal and her Muslim lover sought to leave their village, they were pursued by her two brothers for disgracing the family.  They shot and killed her lover and would have killed her as well had her grandmother not intervened.  We learn that Nawal was pregnant and the child was placed in an orphanage but not before the grandmother scarred the child’s foot so that it could be identified at a later time.  

          Nawal’s efforts to find her child during a civil war between Christians and Muslims are heartbreaking.  She is imprisoned and tortured by Abou Tarek (Abdelghafour Elaaziz).  There are moments of shock, torture, and crimes against humanity.  While the storyline is unbelievable, it is very moving and held my attention .  It comes together as it unfolds and makes shocking sense when the letters to brother and father are delivered.  (Oddly, the deliveries take place in Canada.)  The acting by all major and minor characters is of the highest caliber.  Again, this picture is not to be missed.  (In French and Arabic, with English subtitles.)

Movie Review:  “Le Quattro Volte” (-)

May 2, 2011

          I decided to see this picture after reading A.O. Scott’s review of it in The New York Times.   He began his analysis: 

          “ Le Quattro Volte,” an idiosyncratic and amazing new film by Michelangelo Frammartino, is so full of surprises – nearly every shot contains a revelation, sneaky or overt, cosmic or mundane – that even to describe it is to risk giving something away.”  The closing line of Scott’s review was “You have never seen anything like this movie, even though what it shows you has been there all along.”

          As far as I’m concerned, both sentences are undeserved.  The movie is ridiculous, incomprehensible, and totally pointless from beginning to end.  It contains no dialogue or subtitles – it is neither a silent movie similar to those of early cinema nor is it a modern movie breaking new ground. 

          Although it takes place in southern Italy, no beautiful pastoral scenes are depicted, and no acting is involved as far as I could discern. The only moments of interest and movement occur when a flock of goats appear and reappear, their presence announced by the cowbells tied to their necks.  I truly had to pinch myself to stay awake.

          The film is part of a new Independent Film series held at the Quad Theater in Greenwich Village.  The night I went, a red carpet and television camera person were in the theater.  After seeing the picture I was asked for my opinion by the TV crew to which I replied, “This is the worst movie I have ever seen.”  The interviewer did not blink or swallow hard.  He simply replied, “Thank you so much Mayor Koch.”  I left feeling as though I should demand a refund, even though I had not paid, using my critic’s pass generously provided by the theater.  I hope I’m not banned from future attendance.

          Henry Stern said:  This is a movie that is quite unlike all the others that I have seen.  There is minimal dialogue, none in English, spoken off-screen and without any subtitles.  The same goes for the plot.  There is hardly any connected narrative, and whatever is shown is not particularly related to what came before.

          The picture may be praised as a cinematographer’s work of high art.  The scenery is beautiful, the small town with its empty streets is eerie, the rams and the sheep (or goats) are noisy and crowd each other as they scramble toward the pasture where they spend the day.  Co-stars in the film are a lost lamb and a tall tree.  The lamb bleats a lot, the tree is silent except for a whoosh when it falls.

          The tile, “Le Quattro Volte” means the four times, i.e. seasons.  I certainly would not have figured that out from watching the movie as it very slowly unfolded.  If you want to see this film, read A.O. Scott’s review in the March 29 New York Times.  Using the review as a crib sheet, you may find the movie intelligible, or at least understand what you have missed.

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” (-)

April 25, 2011

          An appropriate French word for this film, acceptable in mixed company, is merde. 

          In his New York Times review of this movie, Stephen Holden wrote:

          “Morgan Spurlock could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  After watching his documentary ‘Pom Wonderful Presents:  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ I could imagine this charming red-headed 40-year-old filmmaker raking in money as a door-to-door salesman of crummy encyclopedias in the slums of Philadelphia or as a pitchman in an infomercial peddling a flimsy abdominal toner.  He could probably earn millions as a motivational speaker.”

          Holden was thrilled and delighted with the film.  I was bored to tears.  That’s not to say there weren’t occasional moments of comic relief, but there were too few to undo the damage.

          Spurlock got a sizeable number of corporations to finance this movie, paying the cost of production even before it was released.  He did it by prominently displaying their products in the picture.  The number one featured item is POM:  pomegranate juice, billed in the film as a kind of Viagra.  You either like the taste of pomegranate or you don’t.  I don’t.  The bottle itself has a shape as unique as the original six-and-a-half-ounce Coke bottle still served in most restaurants today. 

          Anyway, the joke my friends is on you, not on the screen:  avoid.

          Henry Stern said:  I happen to be particularly interested in brand marketing.  Two good friends who are park alumni founded the Civic Entertainment Group, which has grown virally over the years.  So I found the movie moderately absorbing because of the chutzpah of the promoter, and the ingenuity of some advertisers.  My favorite was “Mane and Tail: shampoo, for people, dogs and horses.

          The film featured Ralph Nader, mellow and wise at 77.  Noam Chomsky had a bit part.  Morgan Spurlock’s films can be compared with Michael Moore’s, but Morgan is amused rather than appalled at the foibles he illuminates.  He gives us a slice of the promotional side of business, which is corny but not outrageous.  Morgan is also much thinner than Michael Moore, which is helpful since he is on the screen for most of the movie.  BTW, the title was inspired by “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which this film is definitely not.



Movie Review:  “Of Gods and Men” (+)

April 25, 2011

          A lovely, memorable film with beautiful acting.

          The movie is based on a true story about eight Trappist monks who lived in an Algerian monastery during a civil war.  The war was not between the French colonists and the Muslim population but rather between Muslim terrorists and the Muslim Algerian government which defeated the French government forces with the fierce Muslim terrorists bent on bringing it down.  Also, the terrorists wanted to expel all foreigners from Algeria and cut the throats of a group of Croatians working on a highway in the local village near the monastery. 

          The monks also came face to face with the terrorists at the monastery.  When they appeared, the leader of the residence, Christian (Lambert Wilson), demanded they take their weapons outside or, at the very least, that they go outside with him to talk.  The terrorists gave in and left the monastery.  An Algerian government representative implored the monks to leave the village they served so as to avoid their predictable deaths.  They argued amongst themselves – half believing they should leave and the others wanting to stay.  In the end, they all decided to remain.

          One extraordinary scene takes place during a meal when Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale) the “doctor” among them who dispenses medicine to the villagers turns on the radio.  As the marvelous, dramatic music from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” fills the room, the camera focuses on the monks’ faces.  They are entranced, as I was, by the music.  Their expressions are of men caught up in a beautiful, profound vision of God.  It was an incredible and unforgettable moment.

          Two other poignant scenes remained with me after I left the theater.  One involved the poor Croatians having their throats slit by the Muslim terrorists.  They died slow, painful deaths, drowning in their own blood.  The other scene involved the eight monks – one had escaped and was replaced by a visiting monk.  They were led over snowy ground in single file to their ultimate deaths, reminiscent of Jews being led to the killing fields by the Nazis in World War II. 

          The movie has been around for a long time.  See it before it disappears from the screen.  (In French and Arabic, with English subtitles.)

You can watch Ed Koch's movie reviews at www.mayorkoch.com.

“Four Lions” (-)

January 18, 2011

          The New York Times reviewer, A.O. Scott, lured me into seeing this ridiculous film with the following comments:

          “These musings are inspired by ‘Four Lions’ a shockingly hilarious, stiletto-sharp satire directed by Chris Morris and written by a squad of British wits.  It concerns a squad of British nitwits eager to wage jihad and unsure of just how to go about doing it.  That there are five of them in a movie called ‘Four Lions’ is testament either to their aggregate brain power or to their mathematical skills, though it is also true that one of the group is subtracted by an incident of premature martyrdom involving a sheep.”

          Yes, there are some incidents of tomfoolery that will make you laugh.  But overall the movie is tedious and grossly boring.  Worst of all, the British dialect is so thick that I couldn’t understand 90 percent of it.  I followed the plot by reading the subtitles provided when the Pakistani characters spoke.  

          The four lions are Muslim terrorists, British-born or naturalized, who plot to receive training in Pakistan, return home to Britain, and blow up civic centers which would kill innocent civilians. 

          Because I doubt that many of you will see this picture, I’ll divulge one scene which made me laugh.  Purists, please forgive the break in cinema reviewer ethics.  After eating, one of the “lions” wearing a suicide vest begins to choke from food stuck in his windpipe.  A nearby diner rushes to his aid and performs the Heimlich maneuver.  Guess what?  It worked, causing the food to eject and the bombs to explode.  I had the Heimlich performed on me, I believe in 1980.  There is no adequate description for that moment of relief when you can breathe again.

          In my opinion, A. O. Scott went way overboard in his review of this film.  What he was thinking or seeing on the screen is a mystery to me.  Take my advice, and see another movie.  The cast includes Omar (Riz Ahmed), Hassan (Arsher Ali), Barry (Nigel Lidsay), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Faisal (Adeel Akhtar, and Sofia (Preeya Kalidas).

          Henry Stern said:  “This film is ludicrous and not even amusing.  It makes a comedy out of four bumbling suicide bombers whose only desire is to kill Jews.  Fortunately, they are so inept that they only injure themselves and other terrorists.  I don’t think this is a subject for slapstick humor, but even if it were, this bunch of clowns couldn’t pull it off.  “Four Blind Mice” would have been a more descriptive title.

          “Hatred for Jews is a given part of their culture, even though nothing happens to show that a Jew injured any of them.  The garbled language made parts of the film hard to understand, but I don’t think I missed anything.  On the other hand, if the film were an effective and sympathetic portrayal of its characters, I would probably feel worse about it.”

 Movie Review:  “Barney’s Version” (+)

January 18, 2011

          This is a spectacular film that will keep you engrossed until the last frame.  Last week the Golden Globe award for best actor in a musical or comedy went to Paul Giamatti for his performance in this movie.  I certainly approve of their choice.

          The story involves a Canadian television producer, Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), the son of a Montreal policeman, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman).  Barney’s job has many rewards, including a high standard of living and the freedom to drink as much as he desires throughout the day.  

          During the course of the movie, Barney marries three times.  The first two are unimportant to him, but the third one touches his heart and that of the audience.  He marries his first wife, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), when she tells him she is pregnant.  His second wife, Mrs. P (Minnie Driver) who is not very bright, ends up in bed with his best friend, Boogie (Scott Speedman).  The love between Barney and his third wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), is very evident and lovely to behold.  The performances of all the actors are terrific.  

          The screenplay is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler.  The environment created is totally Jewish and the dialogue sparkles.  This is one of the best movies I have seen this year, and I urge you to see it as well.

Ed Koch Movie Review: "Monsters" (-)

November 20, 2010

Once again, I was forced to see a movie at a particular hour because of my radio program time schedule.  My live, call-in radio program on Bloomberg Radio (1130 AM on the dial) goes from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Friday evenings.  So, I leave the studio looking for a film that starts close to 8:30 p.m.  Very few do.  In fact, this one started after 9:00 p.m. so the idea, suggested by my movie companion Henry Stern, was that we have dinner first.  Not a bad idea, and there is a hamburger joint next to Cinema Village on 12th Street, so that’s what we did.  Better we should have had an even longer, leisurely dinner because the movie we chose is really bad.  Some movies are bad, but this one is really bad.  What made that fact even more painful is that Roger Ebert gave it 3 and ½ stars, and it was his review that I relied on.  What could he have been thinking?

The film is very much like the old Saturday monster sci-fi chapters of 60 years ago.  Made with a budget of a dollar and a half and actors that were just starting their careers and needing exposure and jobs and would apparently work for next to nothing.

So here we had Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a freelance photographer in Mexico with Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), the love interest.  Her father calls Kaulder, who works for his company, and asks that he get her out of the "Infected Zone", where the creatures roam.  The zone is a large swath of Northern Mexico.  It is where a scientific probe to find alien life crashed, but the aliens survived and multiplied. I think it went to Jupiter’s  moon, Europa, picking up extraterrestrial monsters on the way home.  These are the cheapest possible monsters to create, resembling giant black octopi with numerous tentacles. They enjoy meeting and mating in the U.S.A. But who doesn’t?

I really can’t go on because nothing much really happens, and I’m thinking to myself, do I really have to keep my rule of never walking out of a movie since something interesting could happen, but sadly never does?  Obeying the rule of my profession as a movie critic, I stayed to the bitter end.  You – lucky you -- don’t have to be there at the bitter beginning now that I’ve warned you.

A word to Roger Ebert: How could you?

Henry Stern said: "The movie wasn’t much good, but it wasn’t all that bad.  Think of it as a road movie, rather than a horror film. The monster is rarely seen, and he only eats Mexicans, so the yuppie couple is scared but unharmed.  The avant garde likes this movie because of its craftsmanship, it is considered a triumph of low-budget filmmaking.  The pace is slow, but the settings are beautiful, including a Mayan temple.  No sex, no nudity, no gore, hardly any profanity; just a few days in the jungle, the pair slowly bonding.  I was hoping to see the Statue of Liberty, the hommage to "Planet of the Apes," but I guess they couldn’t afford it. 


 Ed Koch Movie Review: "White Material" (+)

November 22, 2010

The title refers to anything belonging to white colonist settlers in an unnamed French African colony at a time of upheaval and revolution. The French army is leaving and urges the whites to leave, in particular, a handful of whites owning a coffee plantation where the harvest is to be picked over the next five days or all will be lost.

The plantation is owned by Maria (Isabelle Huppert) who runs it with her former husband Andre (Christophe Lambert). Living with them is their son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who is about 18 or 20 years old and probably a little demented.

The fear of the rebels armed with guns and machetes and of African adolescents who set up a checkpoint on the road and demand passage money -- $100 – from those driving by or risk being killed, is palpable. The tension and fear of death is constantly present, throughout the passage of the entire film .

How the various laborers and their white employers cope, along with the African middle-class storekeepers is what keeps you tense every moment of the film. You know all is going to end badly for everyone and, of course, it does.

What you see is what undoubtedly happened in most, if not all, of those colonial-run countries as the colonists were driven out and the African residents fought one another for the dominant replacement roles.

The acting on the part of all is superb.

Movie Review:  “The Extra Man” (-)

September 6, 2010

          This picture could have been a real romp and lots of fun.  Instead, I found it pretentious, overrated, and over the top.    

          The story is very simple and inane.  A young man from New Jersey, Louis Ives (Paul Dano), has lost his job at a prep school.  Louis is uncertain about his sexual orientation and occasionally engages in cross dressing.  He moves to Manhattan and rents a room in the apartment of Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a much older man.   

          Henry is defined as an “extra man,” available to escort women, generally much older women.  (No intimacy is involved.)  He loves the meals they buy, attending their social functions, and sneaking into the Metropolitan Opera.  Henry shows Louis the tricks of the trade and lines up occasional dates for him.      

          Adding to the slapstick aspects of the film is the role of another tenant in the building, Gershon (John C. Reilly), who looks like a vagrant with a shaggy beard and unkempt hair and clothing.  Reilly constantly speaks in falsetto and is simply ridiculous.  Kevin Kline is a fine actor with an enormous range, but he blew it with his shtick performance in this movie. 

          The entire film is absurd with the exception of two performances:  Paul Dano is excellent and Marian Seldes in the role of Vivian, an old moneyed woman who uses Henry as her escort, is superb.  I saw this picture at the Cinema Village on East 12th Street.  Avoid.

“A Film Unfinished”
Commentary by Ed Koch
         An unfinished Nazi propaganda movie titled “Das Ghetto” was filmed in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.  The movie was found among other Nazi propaganda pictures in East Germany, but a soundtrack was never located.  “A Film Unfinished,” is a documentary about that propaganda movie.  It was created and directed by a young Israeli woman, Yael Hersonski.  Ms. Hersonski was at the Film Forum where I saw the picture.  When the movie ended, she talked about her work and took questions from the audience.  She said the film, which was inexplicably never shown by the Nazis, was probably made to be shown to German children long after World War II had ended, Hitler had won, and the Jews were no longer alive.  The intent was to increase German disgust of the Jews and reinforce German pride in having destroyed the Jewish people. In a Nazi created scene, the propaganda film opens with rich, well-dressed Jews in the Ghetto arriving at a cabaret in the Ghetto to dance the night away.  They step over starving Jews in rags and some corpses on the sidewalk, showing their indifference to the suffering of their own. Another fabricated scene involves Jewish men and women, undoubtedly rounded up at gunpoint, required to strip and enter a ritual bath:  the women were forced to parade naked in the presence of what the Nazis hoped would be viewed as bestial male Jews. Many of the non-fabricated scenes from the Ghetto – dead bodies, starving children, the bridge over a major highway connecting two wings of the Ghetto, have been shown in other films.  The propaganda film is one of the few sources of actual life in the Ghetto.  As a Jew, I sat in the darkened theater and wept for my fellow Jews so demeaned, starved, beaten and ultimately killed – six million of them, 1 ½ million were children.  In Europe today, anti-Semitism is rising again. The new Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, and his deputy, Nick Clegg, are hostile to the State of Israel.  France, with its rising Muslim population, has become a dangerous place in some areas for Jewish children wearing skull caps.  Spain, with its rising Muslim population, is hostile to Israel.  Many nations today hide their ever-increasing anti-Semitism by directing their hostilities at Israel instead of at Jews, criticizing Israel for actions it takes for which they would not criticize other countries.  The Nazis didn’t intend to have their propaganda film generate support for Jews and the Jewish nation, but it will have that affect on those seeing it.  They also didn’t intend to lose the war.  Do go see it.


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White Plains Performing Arts Center

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19 Mamaroneck Ave
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The Play Group Theatre - Westchester's Theater for children and teens. For information, registration or tickets go to http://www.playrgroup.org/ or call 914-946-4433

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Jacob Burns Film Center

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Westchester Philharmonic

The Westchester Philharmonic orchestra is a professional symphony orchestra devoted to serving the people of Westchester County. Under the direction of esteemed Music Director and Conductor Paul Lustig Dunkel, the Philharmonic performs a mainstage concert series of five performances, offered in pairs on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College as well as special events throughout the year.

The Westchester Philharmonic has worked with the world’s finest soloists, including Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Frederica von Stade, the late Isaac Stern, Garrick Ohlsson, Joshua Bell, the Emerson String Quartet, Elmar Oliveira, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, and this upcoming season, Peter Serkin. During the course of 23 seasons, it has premiered many new orchestral works, including Melinda Wagner’s Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and Tamar Muskal’s The Yellow Wind.

In addition the Philharmonic has a school-based Education Program, which received the prestigious Leonard Bernstein Award in 2000. Outdoor concerts at Kensico Dam in Valhalla and Lasdon Park in Somers are held during the summer. Other Westchester Philharmonic programs include pre-concert talks and The Maestro Club, for children 8 to 15 years, held on concert weekends. Open rehearsals are held on Saturday mornings prior to most concerts.

123 Main Street, Suite 702
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The Palace Theatre is located at 61 Atlantic Street in downtown Stamford. Tickets $35 and $25. and directions

Rich Forum, 307 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut BOX OFFICE: (203) 325-4466 Charge by phone with major credit cards. Box office open l0am-6pm Mondays thru Fridays; 12noon-6pm on Saturdays; 12noon thru intermission on Sundays. Groups/Theatre Parties (20 or more): call Nancy at (203) 358-2305 ext 49.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the nature of the performing arts - performers, dates and times may be subject to change. When in doubt confirm events with Richard P. Pheneger at (203) 358-2305 ext. 30

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