21 June 2019.
GATEWAYS TO NEW YORK – Othman H. Amman and his Bridges **** (vo German and English)
The beauty of documentaries is that, if well done, they reveal and illuminate facts and information of which we were often ignorant. Here is one perfect example, about the life and career of the Swiss engineer who in 1904 emigrated from Zurich to New York and became one of the most influential men in the history of that burgeoning city.
Martin Witz, Swiss director of such excellent documentaries as “Dutti – Monsieur Migros” and “The Substance”, gives us this grand biography of Othman Amman. As a smart and ambitious young immigrant in the beginning of the 20th century, Amman helped create the outlines of the Big Apple way before it was called that, by designing and constructing some of the most important bridges in and around his beloved new home. From the innovative George Washington Bridge finished in 1931 to the beautiful Verrazzano suspension bridge opened in 1964, and many in between, he redefined and enhanced the skyline of his adopted hometown.
He and the workers who actually built the bridges are an inspiring example of men of vision and hard work. The film, melding his private life, his professional successes and those of the men around him, is not only his story but that of the growth of New York City in the first part of the 20th century. The word awesome, too often misused, is how one can rightfully describe this documentary, which won the 2019 Audience Award at the Solothurn film festival. If you miss it on the screens, you can find it on Amazon.
The atrocities of WWI, the depth of a brotherhood built upon common interests in the arts, the tenderness of new love, the difficulties of a deprived childhood and the benefits of a fine education…all these make up this beautiful melodrama by the young Finnish director Dome Karukoski based on the true life story of J.R.R. Tolkien, the famous English author of such legendary sagas as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
With fine acting by Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien, the lovely Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) as his great love, sumptuous cinematography and a strong script, this biopic takes us from Tolkien’s orphaned childhood through his introduction into the higher echelons of English boarding schools, where he became part of a small, elite fellowship which allowed him to develop his highly imaginative writing powers.
Here is old-fashioned drama that is thoroughly satisfying.
PARASITE **1/2 (vo Korean)
Two families, both with two children – one poor and trying to manage the best they can with the little they have, and the other, well-off and spoiled – come together in this intriguing film by the accomplished Korean director, Bong Joon Ho.
The scenario opens up like a pleasant, sometimes comical fable, a sort of metaphor for the huge class differences that exist not only in Korea, but in every society. Maybe that is the reason that it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, rather than the critical and public favorite, “Pain and Glory” from Spain’s Pedro Almodovar.
(Almodovar is getting his sweet revenge by receiving an Honorary Golden Lion for his career at the upcoming Venice Film Festival).
But I meander, so back to the film. The poor family manages through various ruses to weasel their way into lucrative employment with the wealthy family. That is the crux of the film, a sort of carrot dangling in our faces to follow this pipe dream of wishful thinking, a bit of a modern day Robin Hood, rags-to-riches tale. And as life often happens, the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry…
My feeling about the film is that it’s a manipulative caricature rather than a metaphor. Or to put it otherwise, an ultra-vicious social satire. As the director specifically requested critics not to divulge the twists and turns of the film, just know that the comedy doesn’t last…
LONG SHOT (Séduis-moi, si tu peux!) *
Once again we are in the despicable (but so lucrative) genre of American below-the-belt humor which has replaced the wonderful world of romantic comedies like “When Harry Met Sally”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “Pretty Woman” or “Something’s Gotta Give”.
What an unfortunate world when cheap vulgarities out of Hollywood have taken over. If I remember correctly, it was Judd Apatow and gang (responsible for “The Forty-Year-Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up” and “Bridesmaids” among many others) who started this trend of looking at love and relationships from the perspective of horny adolescents. And dragging generations of young people down with them into this idea that obscenity equals comedy. They have been laughing all the way to the bank since then.
This time we have the exquisite Charlize Theron (who could do a better job of picking her projects) as the American Secretary of State who falls for a schlemiel of a journalist (Seth Rogen, the original Apatow boy, of such crass films as “Superbad”, “Funny People”, “Sausage Party”, and “Neighbors”…) who seems to be obsessed with ‘not getting it’, and letting us know all the crude details. The theme of ideals over power politics is good but the method is so base and constantly insulting that it will leave any self-respecting person disgusted. But this garbage keeps coming…from the same gang and their ilk, because it’s all about profits. And it seems to be brainwashing the critics along with the audiences.
Yes, I am outraged!
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.