Review: ‘Prem Geet 3,’ starring Pradeep Khadka and Kristina Gurung

September 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kristina Gurung and Pradeep Khadka in “Prem Geet 3” (Photo courtesy of Madhu Entertainment & Media)

“Prem Geet 3”

Directed by Chhetan Gurung and Santosh Sen

Nepali and Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the ancient Khazakh Kingdom in the Beyul region of the Himalayan Mountains, the action film “Prem Geet 3” features an all-Nepali cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash:  A noble young prince, who is set to inherit the Khazakh Kingdom, falls in love with a woman in a romance that both families disapprove of, and he could be disowned, while his jealous younger brother plots to become the next king. 

Culture Audience: “Prem Geet 3” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching very predictable action flicks with no imagination and mediocre-to-bad acting.

Manish Raut and Pradeep Khadka in “Prem Geet 3” (Photo courtesy of Madhu Entertainment & Media)

The action flick “Prem Geet 3” is an overload of dull fairy-tale stereotypes and shallow characters. The movie’s ending is a silly cop-out to keep the possibility open to have more sequels. Any number of modern video games can offer better entertainment than “Prem Geet 3.”

Directed by Chhetan Gurung and Santosh Sen, “Prem Geet 3” is the first movie to be released worldwide simultaneously in Nepali and Hindi. Unfortunately, there’s nothing extraordinary about “Prem Geet 3,” which is just a boring rehash of many other plots in many other action-adventure films, with a love story thrown into the mix. Gurung and Mandip Gautam co-wrote the terrible “Prem Geet 3” screenplay.

The movie is the third in the “Prem Geet” series that features a different romantic story about two lovers named Prem and Geet.” The first “Prem Geet” movie (released in 2016) is a romantic drama. 2017’s “Prem Geet 2″ is a musical romantic comedy/drama.” Unlike the previous two films, which are set in the 21st century, “Prem Geet 3” is set in an unspecified ancient time. Pradeep Khadka has the role of Prem in all three movies, while a different actress has portrayed Geet in each movie.

“Prem Geet 3: has a simplistic plot that audiences have seen many times before: There’s the handsome hero, who’s a prince set to inherit his father’s kingdom. The prince has a jealous younger brother who wants to be the next heir in line for the throne. (They are the only two children of the king.) There’s the forbidden romance that pits two tribes of people against each other. You all know where this is going and how the movie is going to end.

Set in the fictional Khazakh Kingdom in the Beyul region of the Himalayan Mountains, “Prem Geet 3” shows Prem, who is the prince and future king, falling in love at first sight with Geet (played by Kristina Gurung, no relation to filmmaker Chhetan Gurung), who comes from a humbler background than Prem’s royal heritage. Not long after Prem and Geet begin dating (with some sappy musical numbers to chronicle their courtship), Prem finds out that Geet comes from a village that Prem’s Dargah people had invaded and plundered.

Needless to say, Prem’s father (played by Shiva Shrestha) and Geet’s father (played by Sunil Thapa) disapprove of this romance. Prem’s father thinks that Prem should marry a woman of a higher social class. Geet’s father thinks that Prem’s courtship of Geet is some kind of trap to invade their village again.

It turns out that Geet and Prem met each other before, when they were children of about 7 or 8 years old. During this childhood meeting, Geet gave Prem two special gold bangles (which are large and gaudy) that he kept for all of these years. Prem gives the bangles back to Geet as a loving gesture and for another reason explained in the movie.

Prem refuses his father’s demands for Prem to end his relationship with Geet. In fact, Prem makes it clear to everyone that he wants to marry Geet. Does this mean Prem will be disowned?

Meanwhile, Prem’s younger brother Aman (played by Manish Raut) has had a long-simmering jealousy of first-born Prem, because Aman wants to be king. Prem has saved Aman’s life on at least one occasion, as shown in the movie. Prem and Aman were in the woods when Prem thwarted an axe that was thrown by an unknown assassin in attempt to kill one or both brothers.

Just because Prem saved Aman’s life doesn’t meant that Aman will feel forever grateful and loyal to Prem. As soon as Prem and his father become estranged, Aman sees it as an opportunity to become next in line for the throne. It leads to a very predictable “brother versus brother” war.

Everything about “Prem Geet 3” looks like a movie that spent most of its money on production design and costume design and didn’t put enough thought into crafting a good story. The action is formulaic and often stale. The music in “Prem Geet 3” is forgettable. The dialogue is atrocious. The hairstyling (with cheap-looking, fake wigs, especially for the Aman character) is almost laughable. “Prem Geet 3” also has than one “fake death scene,” where someone is presented as dead by a murder that’s shown in the movie, but then surprise! This person isn’t really dead, after all.

The “Prem Geet 3” cast members’ performances range from very bland to downright horrible. And because so much of “Prem Geet 3” has been done so many times already in other movies, there’s no suspense. For an action movie, the pacing actually becomes tedious, especially during the very hokey musical numbers, which look like a parody of Bollywood musical numbers. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many languages “Prem Geet 3” can be released in simultaneously, because it is still a very uninspired and vapid movie.

Madhu Entertainment & Media released “Prem Geet 3” in select U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022, the same date that the movie was released worldwide.

Review: ‘The Woman King,’ starring Viola Davis

September 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “The Woman King.” Pictured in front row, from left to right: Lashana Lynch, Viola Davis and Sheila Atim. Pictured in second row, from left to right: Sisipho Mbopa, Lone Motsomi and Chioma Umeala (Photo by Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures)

“The Woman King” (2022)

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Culture Representation: Taking place in the mid-1800s in West Africa, the action film “The Woman King” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and royalty.

Culture Clash: General Nanisca leads an all-female group of warriors in the African kingdom of Dahomey, as they battle against the slave trade and the rival Oyo Empire. 

Culture Audience: “The Woman King” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Viola Davis and military action movies that are told from a female perspective.

Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu in “The Woman King” (Photo courtesy of TriStar Pictures)

“The Woman King” is sometimes cluttered and uneven, but the movie’s compelling performances, gripping action and inspiring personal stories can keep most viewers interested. Viola Davis is the movie’s title character and should have been in more scenes. Instead, at least half of the movie is about a rookie military recruit, who starts out as an underestimated newcomer and overcomes challenges, on and off the battlefield. “The Woman King” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Dana Stevens, “The Woman King” is inspired by true events that happened in West Africa in the mid-1800s. Davis (who is one of the producers of “The Woman King”) portrays General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, an all-female group of warriors protecting the African kingdom of Dahomey.

These women have a fearsome and bold reputation that is so widespread, when they arrive as visitors in a village, people are afraid look at them. Some of these warrior women’s exploits are exaggerated in stories told among villagers, while other exploits are not exaggerated, including the warriors’ participation in vicious killings. For example, the movie shows how the women specifically train themselves on how to murder people by chopping off their heads.

King Ghezo (played by John Boyega), the reigning leader of Dahomey, is part of the kingdom’s dwindling male population. Dahomey has been in a longtime feud with the Oyo Empire, which is also in West Africa. The on-again-/off-again warfare between Dahomey and Oyo has resulted in Dahomey being forced to give up male residents to Oyo, which has been selling these men in the growing slave trade.

Needless to say, the slave traders (the African traitors and the white male buyers) are the story’s biggest villains. Leading the group of white slave traders is Santo Ferreira (played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a Brazilian aristocrat who tries to convince King Ghezo to start profiting from the slave trade by selling slaves directly to Santo and his colleagues. King Ghezo needs the money, and the movie ultimately shows whether or not he makes the decision to sell out his own people. Someone who does sell his own people with no hesitation is Oba Ade (played by Jimmy Odukoya) from the Oya Empire.

Meanwhile, in Dahomey, a 19-year-old woman named Nawi (played by Thuso Mbedu) defiantly refuses to marry an older, wealthy man whom her father has chosen for her. This would-be husband immediately shows that he’s abusive when he punches Nawi for not being submissive to him. Nawi defends herself by pushing this abuser down to the ground. He’s shocked that she won’t let him get away with abusing her.

Nawi tells her father that she doesn’t want to have a husband and that she wants to be a soldier. And so, Nawi’s father decides he’s going “punish” her by making her enlist in the toughest military unit around: the Agojie army. Nawi arrives as very physically unprepared and insecure new recruit. She tries to hide her insecurity by acting like she knows more than she really does.

Nanisca gives the responsibility of training Nawi to Nanisca’s right-hand woman Izogie (played by Lashana Lynch), who is as fearless as Nanisca and very loyal to her. Another member of this military unit is Amenza (played by Sheila Atim), who has known Nanisca the longest and is Nanisca’s closest confidante. Amenza is compassionate as well as tough. Lynch and Atim are entirely believable in these supporting roles.

Nawi doesn’t make a good impression on the Agojie leaders because she often acts like an entitled brat. In one of the first conversations that Nawi and Nanisca have with each other, Nanisca comments that Nawi looks a lot younger than 19. Nawi says to Nanisca, “You look like an old woman to me.”

The movie has the expected scenes of inexperienced recruit Nawi making mistakes and failing in some physical challenges during the training process. She’s laughed at and taunted by some of the other trainees, but she doesn’t experience any extreme military hazing. It should come as no surprise that Nawi eventually improves (in her attitude and physical skills) and then excels. Mbedu is quite good in depicting Nawi’s metamorphosis.

Izogie ends up relating to Nawi because they both came from dysfunctional families. Izogie, who knows about Nawi’s abusive father, confides in Nawi one day by saying that Izogie experienced the pain of having an abusive mother. Izogie comments to Nawi about the Agojie warriors: “You have a new family now.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian slave trader Santo has a servant named Malik (played by Jordan Bulger), whose biracial identity often tests his loyalty. (Malik’s mother was an enslaved black woman, and his father was white.) Malik often has to choose between his white employer and the black people with whom Malik identifies with more. Malik and Santo are about the same age, and they grew up together, with Malik always having the role of Santo’s servant.

Malik and Nawi become attracted to each other, but their possible romance is hindered by Nawi’s doubts about how involved Malik is in the slave trade. Malik repeatedly tells Nawi that he’s not a slave trader, but she questions his honesty, considering that he works for a slave trader. To bring some playfull sexiness into the movie, there’s a scene where Nawi takes away Malik’s clothes as a prank when he’s skinny dipping by himself near a waterfall.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this movie called “The Woman King,” not “The Woman Rookie”? One of the frustrating aspects of “The Woman King” is that the Nanisca isn’t in the movie as much as she should be. Nanisca is not exactly sidelined, because Davis is such a powerhouse performer, she makes the most of her screen time, even with her facial expressions. However, a huge part of the story is about Nawi’s personal dramas.

The movie becomes a little bit of a soap opera when something from Nanisca’s past comes back to haunt her. It’s a secret that Nawi finds out about in a way that shakes Nawi to her inner core. Very few people know about this secret. And, at first, Nawi doesn’t quite believe this secret until she sees proof.

“The Woman King” can be commended for showing some of the realistic ups and downs that military groups have with each other and with the governments that they serve. Nanisca has some tension with King Ghezo’s opinionated wife (played by Jayme Lawson), who thinks that Nanisca is too radical. It irritates King Ghezo’s wife when he takes Nanisca’s advice.

The power struggle between Nanisca and King Ghezo’s wife doesn’t become a major showdown though, because the king always treats his spouse as more or less a trophy wife. It’s very obvious from the beginning of the movie that King Ghezo has more respect for Nanisca than his wife, when it comes to leadership skills and camaraderie. Doesn’t the title of this movie say it all?

“The Woman King” has some intense battle scenes and depictions of enslavement that might be too hard to watch for very sensitive viewers. The battle scenes show how even though many of these women might be physically smaller than their male opponents, the female warriors have trained to outwit their opponents with strategic fight moves. The movie also makes a point of how the women pay respect to their fallen comrades using their African religious traditions.

Although “The Woman King” has a well-developed story arc for Nawi, the development of the Nanisca character sometimes fall short of what many viewers might expect. Nanisca gives a little bit of background information about herself, including her secret that affects Nawi. Even with this big secret revealed, Nanisca still remains stoic and somewhat mysterious by the end of the movie.

Viewers never really find out what Nanisca’s interests are outside of this army of female warriors and the army’s duties to protect Dahomey, but that could be the point: Nanisca’s life revolves around this group. It’s testament to Davis’ immense talent that she conveys enough of a personality with Nanisca to show that this extraordinary warrior is not a hollow character but has lived a life of pain and hard-fought survival that she doesn’t easily reveal to others.

TriStar Pictures will release “The Woman King” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘The Witch 2: The Other One,’ starring Shin Si-ah, Park Eun-bin, Jin Goo, Seo Eun-soo and Sung Yoo-bin

September 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Shin Si-ah in “The Witch 2: The Other One” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Witch 2: The Other One”

Directed by Park Hoon-jung

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea and briefly in Shanghai, China, the sci-fi action film “The Witch 2: The Other One” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with one white South African) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious teenager is hunted by various people while she is being protected by a woman, her brother and their cohorts with their own agenda.

Culture Audience: “The Witch 2: The Other One” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the 2018 film “The Witch: Subversion” and sci-fi action movies that place more importance on violent chases than in creating interesting stories.

Seo Eun-soo and Justin John Harvey in “The Witch 2: The Other One” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

People don’t have to see 2018’s “The Witch: Subversion” before watching 2022’s “The Witch 2: The Other One,” because this sci-fi action sequel is so incoherent, it won’t make a difference. It’s just an idiotic, violent chase movie with no suspense. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is not a horror movie, as the title suggests, and is not scary at all. The only real horror that viewers might experience is finding out that this bloated movie is too long (137 minutes), considering how little entertainment value it has to offer.

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, “The Witch 2: The Other One” (which takes place in unnamed cities in South Korea) is yet another sci-fi movie about an individual who is being hunted by sinister forces that want to use the hunted individual in scientific experiments. In these types of predictable stories, the individual is one-of-a-kind or very rare. And the hunt to find this individual usually involves secretive government operations and/or a gang of criminals.

That’s the basic plot of “The Witch 2: The Other One,” which has a teenager who is just named Girl (played by Shin Si-ah) as the target of this hunt. The movie opens with Girl (who looks like she’s about 15 or 16 years old) on a school bus filled with 36 people, according to a TV news report shown later in the movie. She and the other students are from a school called Sanwol Fashion.

The bus is carjacked by about five men, who fill the bus with tear gas. About five to eight other men wearing hazmat suits then arrive and enter the bus. The next thing viewers see is Girl waking up in a scientific lab, where a TV news report says that the bus rolled off of a cliff, and everyone in the bus died. Everyone, that is, except for Girl.

At the lab, Girl sees a pregnant woman and asks her about the pregnancy. The woman replies, “It’s a girl. She will have a sister and become a twin. And those twins will have even more siblings.” In other words, Girl is being kept in a lab that is producing clones under a secret program called The Witch program. This isn’t spoiler information because the only real spoiler information is revealing where Girl came from, her true identity, and what happens to her at the end of the movie.

People who know about “The Witch: Subversion” know that there’s an evil scientist named Dr. Baek (played by Jo Min-su), who is in charge of this cloning. At the end of “The Witch Subversion” (spoiler alert) Dr. Baek is killed. But she has an identical twin, who’s also named Dr. Baek (also played by Jo Min-su) and who is the chief villain in “The Witch 2: The Other One.”

“The Witch 2: The Other One” so badly edited, the next time that viewers see Girl, it’s during a snowy winter, and she has woken up and sees her body has sustained bloody injuries. Girl doesn’t know or doesn’t remember how these injuries happened. She’s in a science lab in Shanghai, China, where several people have been massacred.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baek, who is in South Korea and now in a wheelchair, is having a conversation a young colleague named Jang (played by Lee Jong-Suk), who tells her that their secret cloning building Ark Main in Shanghai has been totally exposed. Jang adds, “Those fuckers busted the Shanghai lab and evaporated it … The Girl is unaccounted for … She walked out on her own … We’re fucked.” Viewers later find out that Girl has been given the name Ark 1 Datum Point at this Ark Main lab.

And the next thing you know, Girl is kidnapped again. This time, it’s when she’s walking all alone in a wooded area when she’s abducted by five men and one woman in a van. The woman, whose name is Kyung-hee (played by Park Eun-bin), is the fearless and tough leader of this group.

Kyung-hee’s full agenda is later revealed in the movie. But for now, all Girl knows is that Kyung-hee is protecting Girl from the people who want to send Girl back to the Ark Main lab. Some other people become involved during this chase movie that becomes very repetitive and tedious. Kyung-hee’s younger brother Dae-gil (played by Sung Yoo-bin) eventually comes into the picture in a pivotal role. There’s also a crime boss named Yong-doo (played by Jin Goo), who is an enemy of Kyung-hee and Dae-gil.

A female official named Jo-hyeon (played by Seo Eun-soo) has been tasked with finding Girl. Jo-hyeon’s right-hand man is an arrogant and dimwitted white South African (played by Justin John Harvey) who doesn’t have a name in the movie. He often argues with Jo-hyeon about strategy decisions.

Gun shootouts, hand-to-hand-combat, and explosions ensue. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is a just a noisy mess that ultimately has no originality whatsoever. All of the characters are barely two-dimensional, with the cast members giving unremarkable performances. If anyone has the patience to sit through this entire garbage dump of a movie, there’s an end credits scene with a “surprise” that basically announces that “The Witch 2: The Other One” is expected to have a sequel. You’ve been warned.

Well Go USA released “The Witch 2: The Other One” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on June 15, 2022. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Bullet Train’ (2022), starring Brad Pitt

August 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Brad Pitt and Benito A Martínez Ocasio (also known as Bad Bunny) in “Bullet Train” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures)

“Bullet Train” (2022)

Directed by David Leitch

Some language in Japanese, Spanish and Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Japan, the action film “Bullet Train” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Asian and Latino) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A down-on-his luck American assassin has conflicts with international criminals during a ride on a fast-moving train traveling through Japan. 

Culture Audience: “Bullet Train” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Brad Pitt; the novel on which the movie is based; and movies that give more importance to loud violence instead of an interesting and innovative story.

Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in “Bullet Train” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures)

The jumbled and repetitive “Bullet Train” is just a fast-moving train wreck. The movie has plenty of famous co-stars but ultimately has little substance or imagination as an action comedy. “Bullet Train” over-relies on too many similar gags until it all becomes very dull and obnoxious. After a while, the action starts to look stale and formulaic. With few exceptions, the movie’s characters are no better than soulless, computer-generated characters in a video game.

Directed by David Leitch and written by Zak Olkewicz, “Bullet Train” is based on Kōtarō Isaka’s 2010 Japanese novel “MariaBeetle,” which was translated in English and renamed “Bullet Train” in 2021. In the book, all the characters are Japanese. The “Bullet Train” movie has a cast of international characters, with characters from the United States and the United Kingdom getting most of the screen time. Characters from Japan, Russia and Mexico are secondary characters. “Bullet Train” takes place primarily in Japan but the movie was filmed at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California.

Prior to directing “Bullet Train,” Leitch directed the action feature films “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (released in 2019) “Deadpool 2” (released in 2018) and “Atomic Blonde,” released in 2017. What all of these movies have in common is that they bit off more than they can chew. They’re very energetic when it comes to action scenes, but they’re very cluttered with sloppily edited characters and plot tangents that don’t necessarily serve the story very well. “Bullet Train” follows that same pattern. A better director would bring more finesse and charm to these movies instead of trying to make audiences think that violent action scenes are enough to make a good action flick.

People don’t really need to read the “Bullet Train”/”MariaBeetle” novel before seeing the “Bullet Train” movie. In fact, people who don’t know anything about the novel might be less disappointed in the “Bullet Train” movie, which dumbs down a lot of things about the novel. The “Bullet Train” movie removes a lot of the intrigue and personality that can be found in the novel, and substitutes it with an emphasis on staging scenes that are supposed to be outrageously violent.

In the “Bullet Train” movie, seven people on board the Nippon Speedline train going from Tokyo to Kyoto find their lives colliding and interwined because of various criminal activities:

  • Ladybug (played by Brad Pitt) is a cynical and unlucky American assassin, whose current mission is to steal a briefcase full of ransom money.
  • Tangerine (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a smooth-talking British assassin who likes to wear suits and gold jewelry but sometimes loses his seemingly suave cool with his hair-trigger temper.
  • Lemon (played by Brian Tyree Henry) is Tangerine’s more even-tempered adoptive bother/partner in crime, who takes a more philosophical view of their assassin work and who is fixated on the children’s book/cartoon character Thomas the Tank Engine.
  • The Prince (played by Joey King) is a sociopathic killer who disguises her evil by looking like an innocent teenage schoolgirl. (The character of the Prince was male in the “Bullet Train” novel.)
  • Kimura (played by Andrew Koji) is a quiet, low-level criminal from Japan who’s out for revenge against the Prince for a heinous act committed against Kimura’s son.
  • The Hornet (played by Zazie Beetz) is a sneaky assassin who usually goes undercover in disguise.
  • The Wolf (played by Benito A Martínez Ocasio, also known as Bad Bunny) is a ruthless assassin/gang leader from Mexico.

Ladybug is in constant communication through earpieces with his no-nonsense boss/handler Maria (played by Sandra Bullock), who inexplicably seems to know and see everything on the train. (And no, Ladybug isn’t wearing a secret hidden camera.) Maria is ultimately a character that doesn’t add much to the story except to make Ladybug look even more bungling and foolish than he needed to be.

But in some ways, this odd-couple pairing of Maria and Ladybug would have made a better movie if focused on these two characters, because Bullock (in the limited time that she has in “Bullet Train”) brings a certain charisma to the role that “Bullet Train” lacks overall. Unfortunately, only Maria’s voice is heard for most of “Bullet Train,” which lessens the impact of Bullock’s talent for physical comedy (facial expressions and other body language) that would have benefited “Bullet Train.” It isn’t until toward the end of the movie that Maria appears on screen.

The only interesting trivia note about “Bullet Train” is that cast members Pitt, Bullock and Channing Tatum (who has a useless cameo in “Bullet Train”) were co-stars in another 2022 movie: the romantic comedy “The Lost City.” Neither movie is award-worthy, but at least the comedy in “The Lost City” was depicted in a more skillful way. “Bullet Train” has some sporadic moments where the jokes land as intended, but the rest of the comedy falls very flat. Tatum and “Deadpool” movie franchise star Ryan Reynolds have “Bullet Train” cameos that are quick and underwhelming.

The messy plot of “Bullet Train” involves the kidnapped, unnamed son (played by Logan Lerman) of a Russian mob boss called the White Death (played by Michael Shannon), with Tangerine and Lemon having the responsibility of guarding the son on the train and carrying a briefcase full of ransom money. Ladybug’s job is to steal the money. A running gag in the movie is that Ladybug has encountered some of these criminals before in assassin assignments that he botched, but he has forgotten about these experiences until he’s reminded of them.

Lots of shootouts, explosions, and bloody fights ensue. There’s also a recurring plot device involving snake poison and a Taiwanese Blue Beauty snake. Masi Oka (as the Conductor) and Karen Fukuhara (as Kayda Izumi Concession Girl) have utterly thankless and forgettable roles in this schlockfest.

Except for the wisecracking Ladybug and Kimura’s humble florist father The Elder (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), the characters in “Bullet Train” come across as very hollow, and viewers will have a hard time connecting with most of these characters. There’s no clever mystery in this story that will keep viewers guessing. “Bullet Train” certainly delivers if people want lackluster jokes and cartoonish violence, but it just adds up to a lot of mindless hot air.

Columbia Pictures will release “Bullet Train” in U.S. cinemas on August 5, 2022.

Review: ‘Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad,’ starring Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan

July 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Fahad Mustafa in “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” (Photo courtesy of Hum Films and Eveready Pictures)

“Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad”

Directed by Nabeel Qureshi

Urdu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Karachi, Pakistan, the action film “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” features an all-Pakistani cast representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A corrupt cop, who is romancing a virtuous veterinarian, has to decide what to do when the bribe money he has collected mysteriously begins to look like counterfeit bills. 

Culture Audience: “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an action comedy with a confused tone and a weak storyline.

Mahira Khan and Fahad Mustafa in “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” (Photo courtesy of Hum Films and Eveready Pictures)

The action flick “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” undermines its comedic intentions with preachy and melodramatic subplots in this bloated and jumbled story about a corrupt cop who takes bribes. The movie seems very confused about the tone it wants to have. The introduction of a mystical/supernatural element to the movie’s plot doesn’t fit well with the story at all.

Directed by Nabeel Qureshi, “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” (which means “Long Live Rules” in Urdu) was written by Quershi and Fizza Ali Meerza. The movie takes place in Karachi, Pakistan. The beginning of “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” shows a boy of about 8 or 9 years old named Gulab Mughal (played by Usman), who becomes rebellious troublemaker. Gulab’s father Munir Mughal (played by Faiq Khan) is an ethical police inspector. However, because of Munir’s low income, the family has financial problems.

Gulab doesn’t like that his family is considered lower-class when it comes to money. He thinks his father being a cop who won’t take bribes has a lot to do with the family’s financial woes. And so, Gulab doesn’t really respect his father, and Gulab becomes a juvenile delinquent who steals and causes mischief. From an early age, Gulab has decided that he never wants to worry about being poor.

The movie then fast-forwards 20 years later. Gulab (played by Fahad Mustafa) is now a police inspector who is very different from his father. That’s because Gulab takes bribes and often physically assaults or makes dangerous threats to people who don’t pay these bribes. Gulab’s widowed father Munir (played by Qavi Khan) is retired and very ashamed of Gulab being a corrupt cop.

One day, Gulab is called to the scene of a possible suicide attempt. A woman is standing on the ledge of a high-rise apartment building. She calls herself Sweety. After trying to get her to come down from the ledge, Gulab finds out that Sweety was not trying to kill herself but she was actually trying to rescue a cat from the ledge. She takes the cat and brings it safely inside.

It’s at this moment, viewers can tell this is the “meet cute” part of the story because of the way that Gulab seems attracted to her. After she gets off of the ledge, Sweety tells Gulab that her name really isn’t Sweety, but she won’t tell him her real name. Gulab later finds out that her real name is Jia (played by Mahira Khan), and she is a veterinarian, who is passionate about animal rights and has high ethical standards.

Through a series of circumstances, Jia and Gulab see each other again after he comes into possession of her lost phone. Jia plays hard to get when Gulab shows a romantic interest in her, but eventually she and Gulab begin dating each other. She doesn’t know at first that he’s a corrupt cop. It’s very easy to predict whether or not she will eventually find out.

“Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” starts to get ridiculous when there’s a major plot development about how the image of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) starts to disappear from the rupee bills that Gulab has in his bribery stash. This mysterious change has to do with Munir dying with the heartbroken belief that his son Gulab never respected Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The bills then look counterfeit, which causes all sorts of problems when Gulab tries to spend the money.

“Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” just becomes a series of convoluted scenes of Gulab dealing with his bribery money problems and facing a moral dilemma over whether or not he could continue to be a corrupt cop. “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” has supporting characters that are mostly portrayed as bumblers, dull people or irredeemable villains. They include Ronaq Ali (played by Jawed Sheikh), who is Gulab’s sidekick co-worker; Babar Jilani (played by Mehmood Aslam), who is deputy inspector general of Sindh Police and Gulab’s unethical boss who collects bribes too; and Rana Kamran (played by Nayyar Ejaz), a corrupt politician.

In between the musical numbers and silly-looking action scenes, Gulab and Jia have a very predictable romance story arc when a “good girl” falls for a “bad boy” who might have a chance at redeeming himself. There’s nothing in this movie that is innovative or clever. “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” also has a ludicrous subplot about a lion on the loose. At 142 minutes, “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” is also too long for a movie that doesn’t have much substance. Even if the movie were 90 minutes are less,

Hum Films and Eveready Pictures released “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” in select U.S. cinemas and in Pakistan on July 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe and Natalie Portman

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder”

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and other parts of the universe (including the fictional location of New Asgard), the superhero action film “Thor: Love and Thunder” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nordic superhero Thor Odinson, also known as the God of Thunder, teams up with allies in a battle against the revengeful villain Gorr the God Butcher, while Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Porter has her own personal battle with Stage 4 cancer. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that skillfully blend drama and comedy.

Christian Bale in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder” could also be called “Thor: Grief and Comedy,” because how of this superhero movie sequel balances these two themes with some results that are better than others. The movie goes big on showing bittersweet romance and the power of true friendships. Some of the movie’s subplots clutter up the movie, and any sense of terrifying danger is constantly undercut by all the wisecracking, but “Thor: Love and Thunder” gleefully leans into the idea that a superhero leader can be a formidable warrior, as well as a big goofball and a sentimental romantic.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also a commercial showcase for Guns N’Roses music. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie to blatantly shill for a rock band to the point where not only are four of the band’s hits prominently used in major scenes in the movie, but there’s also a character in the movie who wants to change his first name to be the same as the first name of the band’s lead singer. The music is well-placed, in terms of conveying the intended emotions, but viewers’ reactions to this movie’s fan worship of Guns N’Roses will vary, depending on how people feel about the band and its music. The Guns N’Roses songs “Welcome the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” are all in pivotal scenes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” picks up where 2019’s blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” concluded. What’s great about “Thor: Love and Thunder” (which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) is that the filmmakers didn’t assume that everyone watching the movie is an aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), nor did they assume that everyone watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” will know a lot about the Nordic superhero Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) before seeing the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a montage summary (narrated cheerfully by Waititi’s Korg character, a rock-like humanoid who is one of Thor’s loyal allies) that shows the entire MCU history of Thor up until what’s about to happen in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The movie’s opening scene isn’t quite so upbeat, because it gets right into showing that grief will be one of the film’s biggest themes. In a very barren desert, a man and his daughter (who’s about 8 or 9 years old, played by India Rose Hemsworth) are deyhdrated, starving, and close to dying. The girl doesn’t survive, and the man is shown grieving at the place where he has buried her. Viewers soon find out that this man is Gorr the God Butcher (played by Christian Bale), who is the story’s chief villain. But he didn’t start out as a villain.

After the death of his daughter, a ravenously hungry Gorr ends up a tropical-looking, plant-filled area, where he devours some fruit. Suddenly, a male god appears before Gorr, who is pious and grateful for being in this god’s presence. Gorr tells the god: “I am Gorr, the last of your disciples. We never lost our faith in you.”

The god scoffs at Gorr’s devotion and says, “There’s no eternal reward for you. There’ll be more followers to replace you.” Feeling betrayed, Gorr replies, “You are no god! I renounce you!” The god points to a slain warrior on the ground and tells Gorr that the warrior was killed for the Necrosword, a magical sword that can kill gods and celestials. The Necrosword levitates off of the ground and gravitates toward Gorr.

The god tells Gorr: “The sword chose you. You are now cursed.” Gorr replies, “It doesn’t feel like a curse. It feels like a promise. So this is my vow: All gods will die!” And you know what that means: Gorr kills the god in front of him, and Thor will be one of Gorr’s targets.

Meanwhile, Thor is seen coming to the rescue of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who need his help in battling some villains on a generic-looking planet in outer space. All of the Guardians are there (except for Gamora, who died at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”), and they see Thor as a powerful ally. However, the Guardians are worried that Thor has lost a lot of his emotional vitality. Thor (who hails from Asgar) is grieving over the loss his entire family to death and destruction.

Thor is also still heartbroken over the end of his romantic relationship with brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), who was in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Viewers will find out in a “Thor: Love and Thunder” flashback montage what really happened that caused the end of this relationship. Jane and Thor are considered soul mates, but their devotion to their respective work resulted in Thor and Jane drifting apart.

Guardians of the Galaxy leader Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), tries to give Thor a pep talk, because Star-Lord can relate to losing the love of his life (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), but the main difference is that Thor has a chance to see Jane again because she’s still alive. As shown in the trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Jane will soon come back into Thor’s life in an unexpected way, when she gains possession of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir, and she reinvents herself as the Mighty Thor. As an example of some of the movie’s offbeat comedy, Korg keeps getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, by sometimes calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster.

The Guardians of the Galaxy section of “Thor: Love and Thunder” almost feels like a completely separate short film that was dropped into the movie. After an intriguing opening scene with Gorr, viewers are left wondering when Gorr is going to show up again. Instead, there’s a fairly long stretch of the movie with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy

After spending a lot of meditative time lounging around in a robe, Thor literally throws off the robe for the battle scene with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” blares on the soundtrack. After the battle is over (it’s easy to predict who the victors are), Thor’s confident ego seems to have come roaring back. He exclaims with a huge grin: “What a classic Thor adventure! Hurrah!”

As a gift for this victory, Thor gets two superpowered goats, which have the strength to pull space vessels and whose goat screaming becomes a running gag in the movie. The visual effects in “Thor: Love and Thunder” get the job done well enough for a superhero movie. But are these visual effects groundbreaking or outstanding? No.

The Guardians’ personalities are all the same: Star-Lord is still cocky on the outside but deeply insecure on the inside. Drax (played by Dave Bautista) is still simple-minded. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is still sarcastic. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) is still sweetly earnest. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) still only has three words in his vocabulary: “I am Groot.”

Nebula (voiced by Karen Gillan), who is Garmora’s hot-tempered adopted sister and a longtime Guardians frenemy, is now an ally of the Guardians. Guardians associate Kraglin Obfonteri (played by Sean Gunn) makes a brief appearance to announce that he’s gotten married to an Indigarrian woman named Glenda (played by Brenda Satchwell), who is one of his growing number of his wives. It’s mentioned in a joking manner that Kraglin has a tendency to marry someone at every planet he visits.

With his confidence renewed as the God of Thunder, Thor decides he’s ready to end his “retirement” and go back into being a superhero. He says goodbye to the Guardians, who fly off in their spaceship and wish him well. Little does Thor know what he’s going to see someone from his past (Jane), whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander), an Asgardian warrior who was in the first “Thor” movie and in “Thor: The Dark World,” re-appears in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but she now has a missing left arm and has to learn to re-adjust her fighting skills. Sif’s presence in this movie isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s a welcome return, but some viewers might think that Sif doesn’t get enough screen time.

Meanwhile, as shown in “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor gave up his King of New Asgard title to his longtime associate Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who’s finding out that being the leader of New Asgard isn’t quite as enjoyable as she thought it would be. She’d rather do battle alongside her buddy Thor instead of having to do things like attend dull council meetings or cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. New Asgard is a fishing village that has become a tourist destination that plays up its connection to Thor and his history.

The stage play recreation of Thor’s story was used as a comedic gag in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (also directed and written by Waititi), and that gag is used again in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as this play is staged in New Asgard, but with an update to include what happened in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Making uncredited cameos as these stage play actors in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are Matt Damon as stage play Loki (Thor’s mischievous adopted brother), Luke Hemsworth as stage play Thor, Melissa McCarthy as stage play Hela (Thor’s villainous older sister) and Sam Neill as stage play Odin (Thor’s father). This comedic bit about a “Thor” stage play isn’t as fresh as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but it’s still amusing.

One of the New Asgard citizens is a lively child of about 13 or 14 years old. His name is Astrid, and he announces that he wants to change his first name to Axl, in tribute to Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’Roses. Axl (played by Kieron L. Dyer) is the son of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba), the Asgardian gatekeeper who was killed by supervillain Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” As fans of superhero movies know, just because a character is killed on screen doesn’t mean that that character will never be seen again. And let’s just say that “Thor: Love and Thunder” makes it clear that people have not seen the last of Heimdall.

Jane has a poignant storyline because she has Stage 4 cancer, which is something that she’s in deep denial about since she wants to act as if she still has the same physical strength as she did before her cancer reached this stage. Jane’s concerned and loyal assistant Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) makes a brief appearance to essentially advise Jane to slow down Jane’s workload. Jane refuses to take this advice.

The way that Jane gets Thor’s hammer isn’t very innovative, but she finds out that the hammer gives her godlike strength and makes her look healthy. It’s no wonder she wants to explore life as the Mighty Thor. (Her transformation also includes going from being a brunette as Jane to being a blonde as the Mighty Thor.)

And where exactly is Gorr? He now looks like a powder-white Nosferatu-like villain, as he ends up wreaking havoc by going on a killing spree of the universe’s gods. And it’s only a matter of time before Gorr reaches New Asgard. With the help of shadow monsters, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of New Asgard (including Axl) and imprisoning them in an underground area. Guess who’s teaming up to come to the rescue?

After the mass kidnapping happens, there’s a comedic segment where Thor ends up in the kingdom of Greek god Zeus (played by Russell Crowe), a toga-wearing hedonist who says things like, “Where are we going to have this year’s orgy?” Zeus is Thor’s idol, but Thor gets a rude awakening about Zeus. Thor experiences some humiliation that involves Thor getting completely naked in Zeus’ public court. Crowe’s questionable Greek accent (which often sounds more Italian than Greek) is part of his deliberately campy performance as Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” packs in a lot of issues and switches tones so many times, it might be a turnoff to some viewers who just want to see a straightforward, uncomplicated and conventional superhero story. However, people who saw and enjoyed “Thor: Ragnarok” will be better-prepared for his mashup of styles that Waititi continues in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which has that same spirit. “Thor: Love and Thunder” tackles much heavier issues though, such as terminal illness and crushing heartbreak.

The movie’s cancer storyline with Jane could have been mishandled, but it’s written in a way that has an emotional authenticity among the fantastical superhero shenanigans. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also goes does fairly deep in exposing the toll that superhero duties can take on these superheroes’ love lives. Thor and Jane have to come to terms with certain decisions they made that affected their relationship.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the personal lives of supporting characters Korg and Valkyrie. In a memorable scene, Valkyrie and Korg are alone together in an area of Thor’s Viking ship, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about not finding their true loves yet. They are lovelorn cynics but still show some glimmers of optimism that maybe they will be lucky in love. It’s in this scene where Korg mentions that he was raised by two fathers, and Valkyrie briefly mentions having an ex-girlfriend. A scene later in the movie shows that Korg is open having a same-sex romance.

All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Hemsworth and Portman have the performances and storyline that people will be talking about the most for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The ups and downs of Thor and Jane’s on-again/off-again romance are not only about what true love can mean in this relationship but also touch on issues of power, control, trust and gender dynamics. It’s a movie that acknowledges that two people might be right for each other, but the timing also has to be right for the relationship to thrive.

Bale does a very solid job as Gorr, but some viewers might be disappointed that Gorr isn’t in the movie as much as expected. That’s because the first third of “Thor: Love and Thunder” is taken up by a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy interactions with Thor. In other words, Gorr’s villain presence in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not particularly encompassing, as Hela’s villain presence was in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie’s final battle scene might also be somewhat divisive with viewers because one member of Thor’s team is not part of this battle, due to this character being injured in a previous fight and being stuck at a hospital. Fans of this character will no doubt feel a huge letdown that this character is sidelined in a crucial final battle. Leaving this character out of this battle is one of the flaws of “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The mid-credits scene and end-credits scene in Thor: Love and Thunder” show characters who are supposed to be dead. The mid-credits scene also introduces the family member of one of the movie’s characters, while the end-credits scene teases the return of other characters who exist in another realm. Neither of these scenes is mind-blowing. However, they’re worth watching for MCU completists and anyone who likes watching all of a movie’s credits at the end.

What “Thor: Love and Thunder” gets right is that it shows more concern than many other MCU movies about how insecurities and isolation outside the glory of superhero battles can have a profound effect on these heroes. Saving the universe can come at a heavy emotional price, especially when loved ones die. Whether the love is for family members, romantic partners or friends, “Thor: Love and Thunder” acknowledges that love can result in grief that isn’t easy to overcome, but the healing process is helped with loyal support and some welcome laughter.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Thor: Love and Thunder” in U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Vikram’ (2022), starring Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil

July 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kamal Haasan in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

“Vikram” (2022)

Directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India in 2019, the action film “Vikram” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: The leader of a black ops team goes on a mission to find a serial killer, who might or might not be a drug lord who is also being sought for arrest. 

Culture Audience: “Vikram” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kamal Haasan and who don’t mind watching overly long action movies with messy stories and silly fight scenes.

Fahadh Faasil in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

At nearly three hours long, “Vikram” overstays its welcome, as it becomes more of a convoluted mess of plot holes and increasingly far-fetched action scenes. The movie’s biggest “mystery reveal” has no real surprises. “Vikram” is just a repetitive and mind-numbing loop of double crosses and fight scenes from people who often have secret identities. At least one hour of this movie didn’t need to exist.

Written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, “Vikram” is a sequel to the 2019 action film “Kaithi” (another cops versus drug smugglers story) and is somewhat of a sequel to the 1986 movie “Vikram.” Because of all the twist and turns in the plot in the 2022 “Virkam” movie (most of these twists which are clumsily handled), there’s not much to say about the movie’s story except that it essentially revolves around three main characters:

  • Agent Amar (played by Fahadh Faasil) is an alpha male commander of the black-ops squad, which is unoriginally called the Black Squad. About five to seven men report to Agent Amar in this group. Amar has a generically overconfident personality and all the stereotypical actions of a black ops leader in a movie that’s more concerned about fight scenes and explosions than in creating characters with meaningful personalities.
  • Sandhanam (played by Vijay Sethupathi) is the leader of the Vetti Vagaiyara gang, which is involved in drug trafficking. And it goes without saying that Sandhanam is the movie’s chief villain. At least the movie made Sandhanam a colorful character with a lot of memorable quirks. Sandhanam is the middle of 24 siblings, he has three wives, and he’s described in the movie as “a bit of a psycho” and a “hardcore doper.” Sandhanam has bizarre plans to start his own government, which he wants to be funded by money he makes from drug trafficking.
  • Karnan (played by Kamal Haasan) is a mystery man who is shown murdered early in the movie, but his identity is crucial in unraveling the movie’s overly tangled mystery. Karnan’s murder is part of a series of murders committed by a roving group of masked terrorists who kidnap their victims, tie them up, and them kill them on videos that they send to law enforcement. Before each victim is murdered, one of the masked men snarls, “We declare war against your system.”

Karnan was one of three men whose murders were committed by this mysterious group of serial killers within a short period of time. The other two men were Narcotics Control Bureau official (and “Kaithi” movie character) Stephen Raj (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Narcotics Control Bureau assistant commissioner of police Prabhanjan (played by Kalidas Jayaram), who was Karnan’s adopted son. The video recordings of all three murders were also sent to law enforcement.

As far as the investigators know, Karnan was a civilian and not part of law enforcement. However, Karnan apparently had a seedy background as a drug addict, alcoholic and womanizer who frequently visited brothels. It might explain how Karnan was connected to the underground drug trade, but will that be enough information to solve these murders?

Predictably, someone in the Vetti Vagaiyara gang gets greedy and wants to betray gang leader Sandhanam. This traitor is named Veerapandian (played by Gowtham Sundararajan), who hatches a plan to team up with a member of rival gang to get a big drug shipment that has gone missing and deliver it to a mysterious crime boss named Rolex. Veerapandian’s partner in crime is Rudra Pratap (played by Aruldoss), and they both want to get the money from Rolex (played by Suriya) that would have gone directly to Sandhanam.

Amar’s supervisor is police chief Jose (played by Chemban Vinod), who has put Amar on this mission to find out who’s behind these terrorist murders. At the same time, Amar is also tasked with busting Sandhanam’s Vetti Vagaiyara gang of drug traffickers. It doesn’t take long for Amar to find out that Rudra Pratrap is the target of a murder plot.

All of this might sound like an intriguing story, but it’s handled in a sloppy and often nonsensical way. Viewers are expected to believe a lot of moronic plot twists and overlook many illogical story flaws. The last hour of “Vikram” is a steady pile-on of reveals until viewers feel like it reaches the ludicrousness of a bad soap opera. None of the acting in this movie is special or noteworthy.

As for the excessive violence in “Vikram,” it plays into the usual mindless stereotypes where the “hero” can, all by himself, take on and defeat several armed men at the same time without the “hero” getting any serous injuries. There are several heinous scenes in the movie where a toddler (played by Dharsan) is in the middle of the violence, and no one stops to get this child out of harm’s way. The baby is better off than most viewers of “Vikram” though, because the baby is blissfully unaware of “Vikram” being such a terrible movie.

Red Giant Films released “Vikram” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Samrat Prithviraj,’ starring Akshay Kumar

June 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Akshay Kumar in “Samrat Prithviraj” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Samrat Prithviraj”

Directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Afghanistan, between the years 1177 and 1192, the action film “Samrat Prithviraj” has a nearly all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Prithviraj Chauhan has battles with rivals over his leadership power of Delhi.

Culture Audience: “Samrat Prithviraj” will appeal primarily to viewers who are looking for a biopic action film that relies heavily on shallow and violent clichés instead of being an accurate historical drama.

Akshay Kumar and Manushi Chhillar in “Samrat Prithviraj” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Samrat Prithviraj” is an example of a biopic that’s a huge waste of time and money. This sorry spectacle amounts to nothing more than looking like a big-budget, mindlessly violent video game version of the story of real-life Indian historical figure Prithviraj Chauhan. The movie’s epic fight scenes in battlefields look very fake and hollow. And the human interactions that don’t involve fighting are also poorly contrived and acted. With a total running time of 135 minutes, this bloated and repetitive mess wears out its welcome very quickly and then drags on until its very predictable end.

Written and directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, “Samrat Prithviraj” (which means “Emperor Prithviraj” in Hindi) is just a series of historically inaccurate scenes showing feuds over power and revenge. All of the cast members just look like they’re going through the motions with no authentic-looking feelings. In some parts of the movie, it really does just look like a video game. There could be CGI visual effects instead of real actors, and there wouldn’t be much difference in the performances.

The movie, which takes place in India and Afghanistan from 1177 to 1192, opens with an over-the-top unrealistic scene taking place in 1192 in Ghazni, Afghanistan. A stadium full of people will be witnessing the torture of a blind prisoner fighting off three lions that have been set loose in the stadium. That prisoner is exiled Indian leader Prithviraj Chauhan (played by Akshay Kumar), whose eyes are missing for reasons shown later in the movie. The scene is grossly unrealistic in how Prithviraj, who is armed with an axe and a spear, is able to kill all of the attacking lions. After he kills the lions, Prithviraj collapses from exhaustion.

“Samrat Prithviraj” (whose original title was “Prithviraj”) then shows flashbacks that depict what led Prithviraj to this far-fetched “battle with the lions” scene. The story goes back a few years before in India, where Prithviraj gets caught up in a power struggle over leadership of Delhi. It all starts when Prithviraj is ruling over Ajmer, and he is visiting the land of Kannauj. It’s where he meets and falls in love with a princess named Sanyogita (played by Manushi Chhillar), whose ruthless king father Jayachandra (played by Ashutosh Rana) does not approve of the relationship.

Meanwhile, back in Ajmer, Prithviraj offers asylum to a man named Mir Hossain (played by Anshuman Singh), who has come to Ajmer because he ran off with a woman named Chitralekha, who was the concubine of Hossain’s brother Muhammad Ghori (played by Manav Vij), the sultan of Ghor. Ghori dispatches an underling named Qutb al-Din Aibak (played by Sahidur Rahaman) to Ajmer, to send a message demanding that Prithviraj send Hossain back to Ghori, or else Ghori threatens to declare war against Prithviraj and the people of Ajmer.

Prithviraj refuses this demand. And you know what that means: Ghori and Prithviraj go to war. Soldiers from their respective lands getting caught in this power struggle, and often lose their lives as a result. One of the casualties is Mir Hossain. Prithviraj is victorious in this war. Ghori is captured, but is then foolishly released a few days later.

Prithviraj then becomes the ruler of Delhi, which he inherited when the previous ruler gave the leadership of Delhi to Prithviraj instead of a biological heir (his grandson), who becomes yet another person to hold a grudge against Prithviraj. With Prithviraj now the ruler of Delhi, this rise to power does not sit well with Jayachandra, who does not want his daughter Sanyogita to marry Prithviraj.

Sanyogita and Prithviraj get married anyway. As the saying goes: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And so, this marriage leads to Jayachandra forming an alliance with Ghori to get revenge and kill Prithviraj. Eventually, the movie shows what happened after Prithviraj fainted in the stadium after he killed the lions.

“Samrat Prithviraj” has several mind-numbing battle scenes that should be suspenseful but they actually become very boring after a while. The scenes that don’t take place on a battlefield are just as monotonous. Supporting characters—such as Prithviraj’s closest confidant Chand Vardai (played by Sonu Sood) and Prithviraj’s uncle Kaka Kanha (played by Sanjay Dutt)—are completely underdeveloped.

Worst of all, “Samrat Prithviraj” does very little to make viewers care about the characters, especially because this movie looks more like an overblown fantasy film rather than a historical drama based on real people. Everything about this era’s conflicts between Hindus and Muslims is over-simplified to the point where none of it is believable. “Samrat Prithviraj” shows what can happen when filmmakers take a lot of money and put very little of it to good use.

Yash Raj Films released “Samrat Prithviraj” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Jurassic World Dominion,’ starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise and Mamoudou Athie

June 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Isabella Sermon and DeWanda Wise in “Jurassic World Dominion” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Jurassic World Dominion”

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States and briefly in Malta, the sci-fi/action film “Jurassic World Dominion” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Asians) portraying scientists, business people and animal advocates involved in some way with the interaction of the dinosaur population that was first seen in 1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

Culture Clash: As dinosaurs and humans co-exist on Earth, swarms of giant locusts are eating crops and killing off Earth’s population, while a group of scientists and other people race against time to save the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Jurassic” franchise fans, “Jurassic World Dominion” will appeal to fans of the stars of the movie, as well as viewers who will tolerate a mediocre and jumbled story to see some familiar faces.

Beta and Blue in “Jurassic World Dominion” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Bloated and with a scatterbrained plot, “Jurassic World Dominion” is a disappointing, overstuffed mess with too many awkward jokes and not enough dinosaur action. Bringing back original “Jurassic Park” cast members will just remind viewers how superior the first “Jurassic Park” movie is to this “Jurassic World” sequel. Colin Trevorrow directed and co-wrote 2015’s “Jurassic World,” a spinoff to the “Jurassic Park” series that began with 1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

Trevorrow was set to direct 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” but he was replaced by J.A. Bayona, although Trevorrow co-wrote the “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” screenplay. Trevorrow returned as a director of the “Jurassic” franchise by helming “Jurassic World Dominion,” which he co-wrote with Emily Carmichael. Unfortunately, it seems like the “Jurassic World Dominion” filmmakers couldn’t stick to an uncomplicated plot, because the movie (which is too long, at 146 minutes) goes off on some distracting and unwelcome tangents.

“Jurassic World Dominion” picks up four years after the destruction of the Central American island of Isla Nublar, the sanctuary-like domain of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs co-exist with humans all over the world—a prediction come true by Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum), who was shown at the end of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” testifying before the U.S. Senate that Earth would have dinosaurs and humans being able co-exist peacefully. But there would be no “Jurassic World Dominion” if things ended that simply.

The main cause of all of Earth’s problems in “Jurassic World Dominion” (as with most of the other “Jurassic” movies) comes down to one thing: human greed. And there’s yet another evil businessman who’s at the root of it. One of the more frustrating things about “Jurassic World Dominion” is that it lazily recycles and copies too many other things from previous “Jurassic” movies.

The beginning of “Jurassic Dominion” features a news report explaining that, once again, a black market has emerged for captured dinosaurs. As a result, the U.S. government has awarded the global rights to collect the world’s dinosaurs to a biotech company called Biosyn, which is located in the Dolomite Mountains valley. Not only is Biosyn now in charge of collecting all the dinosaurs on Earth but this mysterious company is also in the business of trying to eradicate world hunger by creating crops immune to pests and diseases.

Try not to laugh at the idea that one company has been given control over the world’s dinosaurs and possibly the world’s food supply chain. (The movie makes no mention whatsoever of what the United Nations would have to say about it, because apparently, the United States makes decisions for the entire world.) But “Jurassic Park Dominion” viewers are supposed to believe this flimsy premise, because it’s the basis of all of the conflicts in this movie.

With one company having this much power, corruption is inevitable. And the movie reveals early on who the chief villain is, which should surprise no one: Biosyn CEO Lewis Dodgson (played by Campbell Scott), who has several subordinates, but he’s really presented unrealistically as the only villain mastermind. Meanwhile, there’s a whole slew of heroes who zigzag around the world and eventually join forces for the predictable “we have save the world” part of the story.

“Jurassic World Dominion” is so disjointed and so caught up in introducing a new subplot every 20 minutes, it ends up being too jumbled for its own good. The beginning of the movie re-introduces former Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) and dinosaur rescue advocate Claire Dearing (played Bryce Dallas Howard), who are now officially a couple, after trying to deny that they wanted to be a couple for the previous two “Jurassic World” movies.

Owen and Claire are living in isolation the Sierra Nevada Mountains and raising 15-year-old Maisie Lockwood (played Isabella Sermon), the orphaned daughter of Benjamin Lockwood (played by James Cromwell), the co-founder of Jurassic Park. Benjamin’s fate is show in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” which is why Owen and Claire are now Maisie’s guardians. As shown in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (mild spoiler alert) Benjamin’s daughter Charlotte died an untimely death, so in his grief, he controversially used Charlotte’s DNA to clone another daughter, who is Maisie, whom Benjamin presented to the world as his granddaughter.

This “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” plot reveal is talked about multiple times in “Jurassic World Dominion,” because Maisie knows she was cloned from her dead mother Charlotte’s DNA. Maisie is now in hiding with Owen and Claire, who both don’t want her to be captured by the U.S. government for experiments. This is all information that viewers need to know within the first 15 minutes of watching “Jurassic World Dominion.” It’s an example of how badly the movie is written for people who might not know anything about “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

An early scene in “Jurassic World Dominion” shows that Claire (who is part of the Dinosaur Protection Group) has been fanatically rescuing dinosaurs from illegal breeders. The scene depicts one such recue at an illegal breeding farm in Nevada. Two of Claire’s dinosaur rescue colleagues—systems analyst Franklin Webb (played by Justice Smith) and paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (played by Daniella Pineda)—are with her on this successful mission, but they start to question Claire’s recklessness in putting them in increasing danger. Franklin’s and Zia’s appearances in the movie are really just filler.

Owen and Claire refuse to let Maisie interact with any other people except Owen and Claire. And now, teenage Maisie is starting to resent this control and is beginning to rebel. Expect to see several scenes of Maisie shouting, pouting and being resentful to Owen and Claire. But before Owen and Claire have much time to deal with Maisie wanting more freedom, this family has another more pressing problem: a dinosaur kidnapping.

One of the stars of the previous two “Jurassic World” movies was a female Velociraptor named Blue, who was rescued and adopted by Owen and Claire. Blue (one of the last-known Velociraptors on Earth) conceived a child on her own and gave birth to this child, which is named Beta. And now, Beta has been stolen by poachers, led by a shaggy-haired lowlife named Rainn Delacourt (played by Scott Haze), who works for the most obvious person possible. And then, Maisie gets kidnapped too. A sassy former U.S. Air Force pilot named Kayla Watts (played by DeWanda Wise) has been hired to transport Maisie by private plane during this kidnapping.

But wait, there’s more: Swarms of giant locusts have been causing terror on Earth, by killing people and eating essential food crops. And these giant locusts, which are rapidly spreading across the world, are only eating food crops that were not engineered by Biosyn. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s not a coincidence. But apparently, only a few people on Earth have figured out that it’s not a coincidence. And in this idiotic movie, that small group of people will to have to be the ones to save the world.

Meanwhile, original “Jurassic Park” characters Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) are shoehorned into a clumsy plot where they reunite with Ian, who now works for Biosyn. Before that happens, paleobotanist Ellie meets up with paleontologist Alan, who is now living in Utah and making money offering paleontological digs for tourists. It’s a reunion scene that should be entertaining to watch, but it just looks so forced and uncomfortably written.

Alan has had a crush on Ellie for years—so much so, that he has a photo of her on his wall. He quickly hides the photo when Ellie suddenly shows up to visit him. Ellie is now divorced with college-age children. Alan is a bachelor who’s happy to hear Ellie is now single and available. And you know what that means later in the movie.

Ian has invited Ellie and Alan to Biosyn, where he is now the company’s in-house philosopher. It’s just an excuse for the movie to have Ian act like a New Age eccentric. Later in the movie, Ian makes this creepy statement: “I had a dog once. It humped my leg so much, I got a callous on my shin bone.” That’s an example of the awful dialogue in “Jurassic World Dominion.”

Biosyn’s head of communications Ramsay Cole (played by Mamoudou Athie) is open about his hero worship of Ian. Ramsay also professes his loyalty to Rasmay’s Biosyn CEO boss Lewis. Ramsay becomes the official Biosyn tour guide for visitors Ellie and Alan, who are both suspicious of Lewis. “Jurassic” movie franchise recurring character Dr. Henry Wu (played by BD Wong), who works for Biosyn as a genetic engineer, is in the movie for less than 15 minutes, where he spends most of his screen time looking stressed-out and worried.

With the reunion of old characters and the introduction of new characters, “Jurassic World Dominion” keeps throwing different subplots into the mix to separate the characters and then eventually bring them back together. There’s an unnecessary detour to Malta, featuring a cameo from Barry Sembène (played by Omar Sy), who was a dinosaur trainer in 2015’s “Jurassic World” movie. Barry’s only purpose in “Jurassic World Dominion” is to tell people that Malta is a gateway for people involved in illegal dinosaur trafficking, and so he can show Claire and Owen what an underground dinosaur fight club looks like.

And what about the dinosaurs in this story? They’re not in the movie as much as some viewers might expect. The dinosaur action scenes are not very terrifying at all. You never feel like the “heroes” are in any real danger. And when you see the lack of serious injuries at the end of the film, considering all the physical attacks that the characters experienced, it all just adds to the movie’s phoniness.

None of the acting in “Jurassic World Dominion” is special, because the cast members are just going through the motions reciting the often-silly dialogue that they have to say. (Expect to see plenty of cringeworthy comments from Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm character. ) “Jurassic World Dominion” is ultimately a “Jurassic” movie where the dinosaurs have lost a lot of edge, and the human drama is entirely toothless.

Universal Pictures will release “Jurassic World: Dominion” in U.S. cinemas on June 10, 2022. The movie was released in other countries first, beginning June 1 in Mexico and South Korea, and June 2 in Argentina, Brazil and Peru.

Review: ‘The Roundup’ (2022), starring Don Lee, Son Suk-ku, Choi Guy-hwa and Park Ji-hwan

June 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Son Suk-ku and Don Lee in “The Roundup” (Photo courtesy of Capelight Pictures)

“The Roundup” (2022)

Directed by Lee Sang-yong

Korean and Vietnamese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Korea and Vietnam, the action film “The Roundup” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Roguish police detective Ma Seok-do and his colleagues try to hunt down a ruthless crime boss, who eludes law enforcement in Korea and Vietnam.

Culture Audience: “The Roundup” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “The Outlaws,” star Don Lee, and suspenseful action flicks about cops versus criminals.

Don Lee and Choi Guy-hwa in “The Roundup” (Photo courtesy of Capelight Pictures)

“The Roundup” delivers plenty of thrills and adrenaline-pumped action in this worthy sequel to 2017’s “The Outlaws.” In this “cops versus criminals” story, the flawed protagonist’s misdeeds and mistakes bring some intentional laughs. The last third of the movie includes an epic chase during a kidnapping and ransom drop that will make “The Roundup” a memorable standout among a sea of action films.

Directed by Lee Sang-yong, “The Roundup” (which picks up four years after the events of “The Outlaws”) continues the story of hot-tempered police detective Ma Seok-do (played by Don Lee), who is nicknamed “The Beast” or “Beast Cop,” because he doesn’t hesitate to commit police brutality to get his version of justice. Detective Ma works in the major crimes unit of the Seoul Police Department in South Korea. His antics have given him a reputation as a loose-cannon cop.

An early scene in the movie shows how Detective Ma operates. He’s called to a crime scene at a convenience store, where a deranged man with a knife is having a shouting meltdown and wildly swinging the knife at anyone who comes near him. Detective Ma shows up late because he says he was on “a blind date.”

Detective Ma quickly subdues the attacker with a very illegal beatdown. The movie then cuts to a scene at the police station, where Detective Ma and three colleagues look at an unflattering newspaper article about this incident. The article, which has a photo of Detective Ma at the convenience store, has a headline saying that the Beast Cop has struck again.

The article mentions that Detective Ma was disciplined for excessive use of force, and he was sent to rehab for 12 weeks. Detective Ma scoffs at the report with his three cop colleagues: mild-mannered Oh Dong-gyun (played by Heo Dong-won), eager Kang Hong-seok (played by Ha Joon) and rookie Kim Sang-hoon (played by Jung Jae-kwang). All three of these cops look up to Detective Ma for his fearless and often-irreverent attitude.

One person in the police department who tries (and often fails) to control Detective Ma is his supervisor Captain Jeon (played by Choi Guy-hwa), who frequently admonishes Detective Ma, but begrudgingly admits that Detective Ma is often effective in his work. That’s why Captain Jeon often looks the other way or enables Detective Ma to get away with certain unethical things, if it means that it will help the cops solve a case. When Captain Jeon and Detective Ma do interrogations together, it’s easy to predict who will play the “good cop” role and who will play the “bad cop” role.

Captain Jeon tells Detective Ma that the two of them will be going to Vietnam to investigate why a South Korean criminal named Yoo Jong-hoon (played by Jeon Jin-oh) has turned himself into authorities in Vietnam. Yoo Jong-hoon was a suspect in a high-profile jewelry heist in South Korea, so the two cops want to see what Yoo Jong-hoon has to say and if he can be extradited back to South Korea. There’s some comical back-and-forth between Captain Jeon and Detective Ma about which of them can speak English on this trip.

The interrogation of Yoo Jong-hoon leads to him confessing to being involved in a 2008 kidnapping and murder of a wealthy South Korean business scion in his 20s named Choi Yong-gi (played by Cha Woo-jin) in Ho Chi Minh City. This kidnapping and murder were committed by a gang led by a ruthless overlord named Kang Hae-sang (played by Son Suk-ku, also known as Son Seok-koo), whose charming good looks mask a nasty and sadistic personality. Son’s portrayal of this villain is one of the main reasons to see “The Roundup,” because he convincingly plays the Kang Hae-sang character as both coldly calculating and insanely reckless.

The rest of “The Roundup” involves Detective Ma and his colleagues uncovering more of Kang’s crimes and trying to track him down to arrest him, first in Vietnam and then in South Korea. Kang is an elusive and crafty criminal who always seems to be far ahead of law enforcement. Instead of keeping a low profile when he knows he’s being hunted, he goes out of his way to cause more madness and mayhem. It’s why, as a movie villain, Kang is riveting to watch.

Needless to say, “The Roundup” has a lot of brutal violence that is not for viewers who get easily offended by this type of content. Some of the fight stunts are over-the-top and unrealistic, because these fights would definitely cause more damage in real life than what’s shown in the movie. However, that doesn’t mean that the cops and other people involved in the fights don’t have the physical effects of getting beaten up or shot. “The Roundup” has four people credited as the movie’s screenwriters: director Lee Sang-yong, Ma Dong-seok, Young-jong Lee and Min-Seong Kim.

People don’t watch a movie like “The Roundup” for award-worthy acting. However, the acting in “The Roundup” is better than the average “cops versus criminals” movie. Lee is very charismatic in his role as Detective Ma, the rogue cop who makes wisecracking quips in between some of his questionable and harsh ways of getting what he wants. The actors in supporting roles get their jobs done well, but make no mistake: It’s the Beast Cop’s world, and everyone else is just living in it. The villain Kang Hae-sang is the only supporting character who can be considered truly formidable to Detective Ma.

Just when you think “The Roundup” is going to be a typical international police caper that will wrap up in a certain way, the movie ramps up the suspense with a kidnapping. This abduction involves the parents of murder victim Choi Yong-gi, whose father Choi Chun-baek (played by Nam Mun-cheol) was with him in Vietnam before Choi Yong-gi was abducted and murdered. The Choi spouses are targeted because of their wealth and because of certain things that happened after their son’s death.

One of the Choi spouses gets kidnapped, but this review won’t reveal which spouse. A Detective Ma colleague named Jang Isu (played by Park Ji-hwan) is recruited to help in the kidnapping case. This kidnapping plot development leads to the best parts of the movie, which takes some action-packed twists and turns that will have viewers completely on edge to see what will happen next. It makes “The Roundup” the type of gripping and crowd-pleasing thriller that is sure to inspire more sequels.

Capelight Pictures released “The Roundup” in select U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on May 18, 2022.

Copyright 2017-2022 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX