Review: ‘A Writer’s Odyssey,’ starring Lei Jiayin, Yang Mi and Dong Zijiang

February 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lei Jiayin in “A Writer’s Odyssey” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“A Writer’s Odyssey”

Directed by Lu Yang

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, the fantasy/action film “A Writer’s Odyssey” features an all-Asian cast representing the middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A desperate man, who’s been searching for his missing daughter for the past six years, gets caught up in a murder plot and an alternate world that are connected to what a young novelist is writing for his latest book.

Culture Audience: “A Writer’s Odyssey” will appeal primarily to people who like immersive, eye-catching action films that have twist-filled plot developments.

Yang Mi in “A Writer’s Odyssey” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

It’s not just the graphic violence that makes the fantasy/action film “A Writer’s Odyssey” geared to adults. At the core of a movie is a time-traveling mystery that is wrapped up and eventually unraveled in layers, making it a somewhat convoluted story that very young children will have a hard time understanding. But the movie is worth a watch for anyone who’s up for a story that examines issues of grief and revenge, while taking viewers on a frenetic ride in this otherworldly enigma.

To fully understand “A Writer’s Odyssey” (directed by Yang Lu), it helps to know in advance that the movie switches back and forth between two different worlds. In the “real world,” a disillusioned and bitter man named Guan Ning has been on an unrelenting quest to find his daughter Tangerine, who disappeared six years earlier when she was 6 years old. Meanwhile, a young author named Kongwen Lu (played by Dong Zijian) has been writing the latest book in his fantasy novel series, which follows a heroic teenager who is also named Kongwen.

Kongwen Lu’s writing come to life in the movie, and it’s all presented as an “alternate world,” where monsters exist, there are armies of robot-looking mutants, and humans look and act like warriors—or at least potential warriors. In this “alternate world,” whatever Kongwen Lu writes happens on screen. But there comes a point in the movie where what happens in the “alternate world” has an effect on people in the “real world” and vice versa.

“A Writer’s Odyssey” opens up with a thrilling action scene that introduces Guan Ning as the protagonist who finds himself unexpectedly caught between these two worlds. He’s lying in wait in a mountainous area and throws a rock at the windowshield of a freight truck driving below on a winding road. The rock breaks the window, which causes the truck to crash. There are two men sitting in the front of the truck, and they suffer minor injuries.

While the driver is briefly unconscious, Guan Ning shouts to the other man about his missing daughter Tangerine: “Six years ago in Liaoyuan, you kidnapped her. Where is she?” Guan Ning and the thug end up fighting. The driver then regains his consciousness and hits Guan Ning with a pipe.

Guan Ning runs to the back of the truck, opens the door, and sees several children locked in cages, but Tangerine is not one of them. The kids in the cages all look to be about 6 to 8 years old, while Tangerine would be about 12. And the next thing you know, police arrive, the two thugs run off, and Guan Ning is arrested for suspected kidnapping and child trafficking. He protests and says he’s an innocent father who’s looking for his daughter.

In another big fight scene, Guan Ning manages to escape from the back of the police squad car. He runs to the nearest car on the street. It’s a black car that has a mysterious woman dressed in black leather in the driver’s seat. Even though Guan Ning has never met her before, she knows who he is. Her name is Tu Ling (played by Yang Mi), and she tells Guan Ning: “You’re our valued business partner.”

Tu Ling also tells Guan Ning that she knows that his life revolves around finding his missing daughter. She comments that she also knows that he used to be a banker, but after Tangerine disappeared, he quit his job, sold his house, and divorced his wife. Guan Ning is suspicious of Tu Ling, who offers to hide Guan Ning from the police if he will do some favors for her.

Guan Ning is reluctant, but then Guan Ning says that she has information that could lead to him finding his daughter. And so, Guan Ning goes with Tu Ling, who takes him further down a rabbit hole of secrets and lies. It’s enough to say that whenever a mysterious stranger makes an offer that’s too good to be true, it usually is.

Tu Ling has a ruthless boss named Li Mu who has a murderous agenda that’s eventually revealed. Meanwhile, the alternate world created by Kongwen Lu begins to collide more with the real world until it becomes obvious that there’s a power struggle going on that involves the supernatural. Meanwhile, Guan Ning is forced to make a decision that could mean the difference between sparing someone’s life and Guan Ning getting killed, or killing someone else and saving his own life.

All of the actors do moderately good jobs in their performances, but Lei Jiayin has to show the widest range of emotions. There are some predictable flashback scenes of Guan Ningin in happier times with Tangerine, with these scenes blatantly tugging at viewers’ heartstrings. The mystery behind her disappearance isn’t handled in a completely predictable way, which makes “A Writer’s Odyssey” more than a typical fantasy/action flick.

“A Writer’s Odyssey” is based on Xuetao Shuang’s book “Assassinate a Novelist.” There are seven people credited with writing the movie’s screenplay: Xuetao Shuang, director Yang Lu, Shu Chen, Xiaocao Liu, Haiyan Qin, Lu Yang and Yang Yu. With all these screenwriters for the movie, the plot sometimes seems overstuffed with ideas and bloated by “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. And the total running time for the movie (130 minutes) is a little too long.

It’s obvious that a great deal of this movie’s budget was spent on visual effects, which are intricate and sometimes stunning but won’t be winning any awards. The violence is often bloody and cruel, while the choreography works very well in most of the action scenes. At times, “A Writer’s Odyssey” looks like a big-budget video game, but the movie has more humanity than a video game in handling the mystery at the center of the story. Underneath the brutal fight scenes and dazzling visual effects is a story of how a parent’s love for a child can lead someone to go to extreme and desperate actions.

CMC Pictures released “A Writer’s Odyssey” in select U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021, the same day that it was also released in mainland China, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Singapore.

Review: ‘Iron Mask,’ starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Flemyng and Jackie Chan

January 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan in “Iron Mask” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Iron Mask”

Directed by Oleg Stepchenko

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, Russia and China, the action-adventure film “Iron Mask” has a cast of white people and Asians representing the working-class, royalty and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An adventurer teams up with a princess disguised as a teenage boy to rescue the princess’ imprisoned father and save a magical dragon that has been taken over by an evil witch and her group of wizards.

Culture Audience: “Iron Mask” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching nonsensical and poorly acted action flicks.

Jason Flemyng, Anna Churina and Xingtong Yao in “Iron Mask” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Iron Mask” is one of those movies that’s so horrendous, it’s like an insulting parody of a bad movie. “Iron Mask” (sloppily directed by Oleg Stepchenko, who wrote the insipid screenplay with Alexey A. Petrukhin) looks like it has a budget that was spent mostly on the production design (some of the set designs are fairly elaborate); the often-tacky visual effects; and the salaries of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan, who get top billing. However, these two past-their-prime action stars are each in “Iron Mask” for less than 20 minutes of this two-hour muddled mess of a film. That skimpy screen time should be enough of an indication how much of a shameless ripoff “Iron Mask” is to mislead viewers into thinking that Schwarzenegger and Chan are the central characters in the movie. They’re not.

In reality, “Iron Mask” is a bloated slog of terrible acting and time-wasting scenes where there are pointless fights that all lead to a predictable and very cheesy ending. It’s the kind of dreck that, if people have the patience to watch the whole thing without falling asleep, they’ll forget almost everything about the movie not long after watching it. It’s not only mind-numbingly bad, but it’s also very boring.

You know how movies look where people speak in another language but their voices are overdubbed with another language? “Iron Mask” (whose convoluted story takes place mostly in England, Russia and China) is that type of movie. It has an international cast, and there are scenes where it’s obvious that people spoke another language when filming the movie but then it was overdubbed in English for release in English-speaking countries. The weird thing is that the audio doesn’t quite synch up well throughout the entire movie, so it looks like even the actors who speak English have overdubbing. That’s how carelessly the film was made.

“Iron Mask” was previously titled “The Mystery of the Dragon Seal,” which is a more appealing title, but it still doesn’t change how badly this movie was made. Here’s the gist of the plot, as it’s explained in the beginning of the film with voiceover narration that’s supposed to sound mystical: In a land far, far away, there lived a creature called the Great Dragon, whose eyelashes went deep into the ground and came up as plants that were made into tea. (Try not to laugh at the ludicrousness of this concept.) The land where the dragon lives is supposed to be an alternate fantasy version of China.

Humans called white wizards were entrusted with the tea. The dragon has a special white seal, which the dragon gave to two white wizards whom the dragon trusted the most: a man named Master (played by Chan) and his princess daughter named Cheng Lan (played by Xingtong Yao). But since movies like this need villains, it’s explained that some of the wizards got greedy, went to the dark side, and called themselves black wizards. These black wizards aligned with an evil witch (played by Li Ma), who led them in an army that took control of the dragon so they could steal all the tea and sell it for their own financial gain.

The witch and the black wizards stopped trimming the dragon’s eyelashes, so the dragon’s eyes became too heavy, and the dragon fell into a deep sleep. The white wizards fought to free the dragon, but they were defeated by the black wizards. As a result, Master and his daughter Cheng Lan were imprisoned on opposite sides of the world.

Master ends up in the Tower Grey Prison in England, while Cheng Lan ends up in a prison in Russia. Schwarzenegger’s role in the film is a little out-of-place and bizarre. He plays James Hook (as in pirate Captain James Hook, albeit with Schwarzenegger’s heavy German accent), who acts as a prison warden for the Tower Grey Prison, but he’s decked out the whole time in a red and white pirate suit. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Meanwhile, the story’s main character is a Brit named Jonathan Green (played by Jason Flemyng), who is shown being chased off the estate of a nobleman called Lord Dudley (played by Charles Dance), who is very upset with Jonathan. Why? Because Lord Dudley doesn’t want Jonathan to be with his daughter Miss Dudley (played by Anna Churina), a somewhat prissy heiress who’s in love with Jonathan.

The movie doesn’t make it clear if Miss Dudley and Jonathan are married or not. The “miss” title in her name implies that she’s not married, but then later in the movie, she refers to Jonathan as her “husband.” Whatever their marital status, Jonathan and Miss Dudley have a son together, who’s about 4 or 5 years old, so Lord Dudley can’t get rid of Jonathan that easily.

After being banished from the Dudley estate, Jonathan travels to Russia, where he saw an ancient creature with countless eyes called Viy, which has the ability to read minds. There are also Russians called Cossacks who can turn into creatures. It’s just an excuse to pile on some visual effects that don’t do much to improve this poorly written story.

Jonathan ends up in a Russian prison, and there’s a silly plot development involving a messenger pigeon that leads to Jonathan taking it upon himself to rescuing Master and Cheng Lan; saving the Great Dragon; defeating the villains led by the witch; and going back to England to reunite with Miss Dudley and their son so they can all live happily ever after. Jonathan is released from the prison by Peter the Great, also known as Iron Mask (played by Yuri Kolokolnikov), who’s kind of a useless and annoying character, even though the movie’s title was named for him. Rutger Hauer (who died in 2019) has a much smaller and forgettable role as an ambassador character.

As you can imagine, this loopy saga involves a lot of globetrotting, and there are huge portions of the film that take place on a pirate ship (cue the swashbuckling) and on battle fields. And presumably to appeal to kids, the movie has a creature that looks like a cute blue stuffed toy monkey with wings. This CGI-created creature tags along with Jonathan when he goes to rescue Cheng Lan while they travel by carriage and are confronted by a gang of thieves.

For her protection, Cheng Lan has disguised herself as a teenage boy. It’s not a convincing disguise, but she manages to fool Jonathan for most of the story anyway. Miss Dudley hears that Jonathan has gone to rescue a beautiful princess, and she gets jealous. So there’s a dumb subplot of Miss Dudley flouncing off to Russia to try to track down her man.

Miss Dudley ends up disguising herself briefly as a male pirate to get on board a ship that’s bound for China. Just like Cheng Lan, Miss Dudley also looks very unconvincing “disguised” as someone of the opposite sex. The movie can’t even get it right when it dresses up women up in drag. Whatever this fantasy world is in “Iron Mask,” it’s clear that it’s a world where the “good” women aren’t taken seriously as men are taken seriously, when it comes to being strong leaders and fighters, so the women have to disguise themselves as men to get things done. However, the movie has no problem making the chief villain a woman who doesn’t disguise herself as a man.

There’s also some underlying sexism when James Hook comments on an elderly man who died in the Tower Grey Prison: “At least he died happy,” and adds an explanation for why this man died happy: “As far as I know, he hasn’t seen a woman in 30 years.”

James Hook and Master have an inevitable fight scene where there’s more crappy dialogue that’s fails miserably at being funny. While the two adversaries are fighting with swords, James Hook’s hair gets cut off, while Master’s long beard gets shortened. Master tells Hook, “You look better this way.” Hook comments to Master on his new look: “You look younger.” Master replies, “Do I?” And then they resume fighting.

Cheesy jokes aside, “Iron Mask” looks like a movie made by people who wanted to waste millions in production money to make a live-action version of a very badly conceived cartoon. The characters are bland and unappealing. And the actors seem to know it too, because there’s no real enthusiasm or sincerity in their performances. And the amateurish direction gives the impression that a robot could’ve done a better job directing this movie. There are bad movies that are sometimes fun to watch, but “Iron Mask” is just a cringeworthy chore to watch.

Lionsgate released “Iron Mask” on digital and VOD on November 20, 2020, and on Blu-ray and DVD on November 24, 2020.

Review: ‘The Marksman’ (2021), starring Liam Neeson

January 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Liam Neeson and Jacob Perez in director “The Marksman” (Photo by Ryan Sweeney/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“The Marksman” (2021)

Directed by Robert Lorenz

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States (especially the Southwest) and briefly in Mexico, the action flick “The Marksman” features a racially diverse cast of white people and Latinos, with a few African Americans and Asians.

Culture Clash: A former Marine-turned-rancher, who lives in Arizona, helps an orphaned boy, who’s an undocumented Mexican immigrant, as they try to hide from drug cartel gangsters who want to kill the boy.

Culture Audience: “The Marksman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and to viewers who like violent and cliché chase movies.

Liam Neeson in “The Marksman” (Photo by Ryan Sweeney/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

By now, Liam Neeson has made so many mediocre-to-bad action schlockfests that he could do them in his sleep. Audiences can also predict in their sleep what’s going to happen in these movies. Does Neeson play a loner who’s got something to prove? Is he an anti-hero who breaks the law as a means to an end? Is there a formulaic and sometimes nonsensical plot amid all the chase scenes, fist fights and gun shootouts? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions. “The Marksman” falls right in line in Neeson’s long list of these types of forgettable flicks.

Directed with little imagination by Robert Lorenz (who co-wrote the derivative screenplay with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz), “The Marksman” tries and fails to be more socially relevant than the average action movie. “The Marksman” throws in the hot-button issues of undocumented Mexican immigrants and Mexican drug cartels, who have been used in divisive political debates on how the United States should or should not change immigration laws. The movie panders to the worst negative stereotypes of Mexicans who cross over into the U.S. border. And the film pushes another “white savior” narrative that makes a crusading white person as the only person in the story who has the conscience and the courage to do the “rescuing” of someone who isn’t white.

In “The Marksman,” Neeson portrays Jim Hanson, a former Marine who is now a rancher in Naco, Arizona. Neeson keeps his native Irish accent in the movie, so it’s clear to viewers that Jim is an Irish immigrant. Jim sometimes tries to talk like an American cowboy, but it doesn’t sound believable, partly because much of this movie’s screenplay has badly written dialogue.

Jim is a grouchy and sad widower who lives alone, and his life isn’t going so well. In addition to grieving over his wife (who died of cancer), he’s also having major financial problems because his ranch is on the brink of going into foreclosure. Jim gets a visit from a bank official (played by Alex Knight), who tells Jim that he has 90 days to come up with the back payments, or else the bank will take ownership of the property. And it looks like Jim could very well lose his ranch, because when he tries to come up with ways to earn more money, all of his attempts fail.

Jim’s only real companion is his Border Collie mix dog named Jackson. Jim also has an adult stepdaughter named Sarah (played by Katheryn Winnick), who works as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Jim has been hiding his financial problems from Sarah. But after the visit from the bank official, Jim meets up with Sarah at a bar, where he tries to drown his sorrows in drinking alcohol, and he confesses to her about being close to losing the ranch and feeling very scared about his uncertain future. Sarah is sympathetic and comforting. She drives Jim home because he’s too drunk to drive.

Meanwhile, the beginning of the movie shows the Mexican boy who will unexpectedly come into Jim’s life. His name is Miguel (played by Jacob Perez), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. Miguel lives in Mexico with his widowed mother Rosa (played by Teresa Ruiz) in a modest house. Miguel is shown going to another house to look for an older girl named Lola, whom he has a crush on, but Lola’s brother (played by Harry Maldonado) tells Miguel to leave immediately because Lola is too old for him.

Rosa and Miguel don’t have an entirely squeaky-clean life. Miguel’s uncle Carlos (played by Alfredo Quiroz) helps look after him, but Carlos is a member of a drug cartel. Carlos has stolen a lot of cash from the cartel, so he’s captured and tortured by some of the gang members. The cartel’s boss is named Angel (who’s never seen or heard in this movie), but he has a goon named Mauricio Carrero (played by Juan Pablo Raba) as one of the chief henchman tasked with “making an example” out of Carlos.

Before Carlos is caught by the other cartel thugs, he makes a frantic phone call to Rosa and tells her that she and Miguel must leave the house immediately because people will be looking for them and will want to kill them. Rosa takes a travel bag full of cash (which is presumably the stolen cash) and follows Carlos’ orders. She and Miguel barely manage to escape from the house before Mauricio and his cronies show up. The gangsters have tracked Rosa down because they took Carlos’ phone and saw her number in the phone.

Rosa has enlisted the help of a guide to take her and Miguel to the U.S. border. But shortly before they get to the border, the guide changes his mind when he sees that they’re being followed in a Chevrolet Suburban SUV, and he figures out that Rosa is running away from gang members. He tells Rosa and Miguel that they’re now on their own. He advises them to find the part of the border’s wire fence that can be loosened so that they can cross over.

With Mauricio and his thugs (he has two with him, including his brother) quickly catching up, Rosa and Miguel frantically race to the fence and find the part of the fence that they can go through to get to the U.S. border. However, one of Rosa’s legs accidentally gets cut on the fence wire. Miguel is running ahead of her into the middle of a road, where he almost gets hit by a beat-up Chevy truck. Who’s driving the truck? Jim, of course.

Jim knows immediately that the woman and boy he’s encountered have entered the U.S. border illegally, so he calls the U.S. Border Patrol to report them. His plan is to hold them until the Border Patrol agents can arrive and take over. But then, Mauricio and his thugs show up and demand that Jim (who has a gun) hand over Rosa and Mauricio. Jim refuses by saying, “Sorry, Pancho, these illegals are mine. I suggest you just turn around and say ‘adios’.”

This leads to a shootout and chase scene that includes Mauricio hopping on the truck and trying to get Jim to run off the road. However, Mauricio is thrown off of the truck. And in the end, Mauricio’s brother and Rosa end up dying from gunshot wounds. Mauricio leaves in defeat with his remaining cohort. But, of course, Mauricio will be back for revenge.

The Border Patrol agents take Miguel to the nearest detention center, and they plan to deport him back to Mexico, since they were able to track down some relatives who are willing to take custody of Miguel. As Jim is driving away, he notices that Rosa left behind a bag full of cash in his truck, along with a slip of paper that has a street address in Chicago. There’s no name with this address, but Jim immediately figures out that Rosa intended to flee with Miguel to this address.

Jim suddenly has a change of heart and decides that he’s going to take Miguel to this address. He calls his stepdaughter Sarah, finds out that Miguel is going to be deported, and Jim asks her if there’s anything she can do to stop it. She firmly says no and tells him it would be against the law for anyone to stop the deportation.

But that doesn’t prevent Jim from showing up at the Border Patrol detention center, pretending that Sarah gave her permission for Jim to visit Miguel, and talking his way into the room where Miguel is being held. Jim has been told that Miguel blames Jim for his mother’s death, but somehow Miguel doesn’t show much hesitation in trusting Jim when Jim tells Miguel to leave with him.

Jim and Miguel sneak out of the detention center. Is it kidnapping or is it doing the right thing? Jim thinks it’s the latter. And that’s when they go on the road trip that takes up the rest of the movie.

At first, Jim thinks Miguel doesn’t speak English, so there are some tense moments where he tries to communicate with a sullen Miguel. But then, lo and behold, Miguel reveals that he can speak and understand English perfectly. A very ignorant Jim is surprised to find out that Miguel learned English in school. It’s as if Jim thinks Mexico is a backwards country where the only language that’s taught in school is Spanish.

“The Marksman” has some very ludicrous plot holes to explain what happens next in the story. Mauricio and three of his thugs have crossed the U.S. border (by bribing a border patrol agent) and have been staking out the Border Patrol detention center to find out what happens to Miguel. It’s actually pretty dumb that they’re sitting in their car and hanging out conspicuously in a parking lot where they could be easily caught by Border Patrol agents.

Because of this stakeout, Mauricio and his thugs happen to see the exact moment when Jim and Miguel drive away in Jim’s truck. They follow Jim to his remote ranch. (Jim doesn’t notice that he’s being followed, even though he should be paranoid about being caught for kidnapping.) Jim and Miguel have left the ranch and have started their road trip by the time the thugs show up at the ranch. Mauricio and his cronies snoop around the house, and that’s how the gangsters find out personal information about Jim.

Mauricio uses his connections with computer hackers to track Jim’s movements, based on Jim’s credit card activity. Later in the story, Mauricio enlists the help of some other criminals during this cat-and-mouse game that takes place in various U.S. states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas. (The movie was actually filmed in Ohio and New Mexico.) These other criminals are just bit players, because for the most part, the gang doing the actual chasing consists of just four thugs (Mauricio and his cronies) who are in a SUV to track down Jim and Miguel.

“The Marksman” is one of those dumb action flicks where during a big showdown with guns or other weapons, people stand around talking to their targets, instead of using the weapons immediately on their targets. There are some “close calls” where Jim and Mauricio could have been easily killed immediately in real life. But since this is a fictional movie, that type of realism would cut the story too short, so the plot is dragged out in very unimaginative ways.

There’s almost no suspense in “The Marksman” because it plays out exactly how most people expect it to play out. The violence is utterly predictable. Perez’s portrayal of Miguel is adequate (the character doesn’t do much talking), while Neeson is clearly just going through the motions and brings nothing unique or charming to this role. Raba’s Mauricio character is very generic, while the other criminals in the movie have no discernable personalities.

There are moments when Jim starts to doubt his decision to “rescue” Miguel. And there’s a brief interlude where Jim and Miguel express very different views on religion: Miguel is religious and believes in heaven, while Jim is a staunch atheist. This difference in opinion leads to a scene where Jim shows he does have a heart underneath his gruff exterior. But that’s the closest thing to “emotional depth” that this banal movie has.

“The Marksman” isn’t a relentlessly horrible film. It’s just a very lazy film because it does nothing for the genre of action-oriented Westerns. Some viewers might be offended by how the movie depicts Mexican men. The only people who might like this movie are those who can’t get enough of Neeson recycling his same “defiant loner” persona in yet another stale action flick.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “The Marksman” in U.S. cinemas on January 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig

December 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Directed by Patty Jenkins

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1984, primarily in Washington, D.C, plus other parts of the world, the superhero action flick “Wonder Woman 1984” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing different classes of people.

Culture Clash: Diana Prince, also known as superhero Wonder Woman, battles against a power-hungry business mogul who wants to rule the world, while one of her female co-workers falls into the mogul’s seductive trap and becomes his ally.

Culture Audience: “Wonder Woman 1984″ will appeal primarily to people who like family-friendly, comic-book-based movies that blend action with social issues and goofy comedy.

Pedro Pascal in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984” could have been subtitled “Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It,” because by the end of the movie, this old adage has been pounded into viewers’ consciousness to the point of being almost numbing. “Wonder Woman 1984” is the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” which was a less bloated, less sociopolitical movie than “Wonder Woman 1984,” but the original “Wonder Woman” movie took itself more seriously as an action film. Both movies (based on DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman” series) were directed by Patty Jenkins, who did not write 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” but she co-wrote the “Wonder Woman 1984” screenplay with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham.

The results in “Wonder Woman 1984” are mixed. On the one hand, the movie aims to be a crowd-pleaser appealing to various generations of people. In the first half of the movie, Wonder Woman has the type of fun-loving superhero action that’s almost cartoonish. In a chase scene that happens fairly early in the movie, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot), also known as Diana Prince, thwarts a heist in a shopping mall by singlehandedly apprehending the four thieves who robbed a jewelry store in the mall. She gives a wink and a smile to some awestruck kids who witness this spectacle. There are also several campy moments in the movie with the character who ends up being the story’s chief villain.

But on the other hand, in the second half of the movie, there are some heavy-handed issues about the nuclear arms race, greed and political corruption that overwhelm the plot. And the plot goes a little bit off the rails because it involves people worldwide having to agree to undo a lot of things that already did significant damage. Not even Wonder Woman is that much of a superhuman political diplomat, but “Wonder Woman 1984” tries to bite off more than it can chew with this concept.

The movie’s total running time is a little too long, at two-and-a-half hours. The tone is very uneven, because “Wonder Woman 1984” has some problems balancing the comedic moments with the serious moments. And the visual effects are hit and miss. (Some of the human characters look very fake in CGI action scenes.) Despite the flaws in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s still a fairly enjoyable superhero movie, because of the convincing interactions between the characters and because it mostly succeeds as an entertaining story that holds people’s interest.

“Wonder Woman 1984” begins where “Wonder Woman” began: in her female-only Amazon homeland, the island nation of Themyscira, which is supposed to be a place that has secretly existed on Earth for eons. The actresses who portray the Amazons of Themyscira have a mishmash of European accents. A young Diana (played by Lilly Aspell), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, is seen in an intense athletic competition with adult Amazon warriors. There’s no explanation for why Diana is the only child in this competition, which involves several obstacle courses of running, riding horses and shooting arrows through giant circles placed on top of tall structures.

As a princess, Diana is expected to win for her team. But when she falls off of a horse and lags behind her competitors, she decides to take a shortcut to make up for lost time. She ends up finishing ahead of her competitors, but her mentor Antiope (played by Robin Wright), who’s also the competition’s judge, disqualifies Diana as the winner, because Diana cheated and therefore she’s “not ready to be a true winner.”

Diana’s queen mother Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) comforts a disappointed Diana by telling her: “One day, you’ll become everything you dream of and more. And everything will be different. This world is not ready for all that you will do.” In case people don’t know about Wonder Woman already, she seems to be immortal, because as an adult, she’s able to live through several centuries and still look like she’s in her late 20s/early 30s.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1984 in Washington, D.C., where Diana is working at the Smithsonian Museum as a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist. She is grieving over the death of her American pilot boyfriend Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), who (spoiler alert) died during a heroic feat in the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which took place in 1918 during World War I. And now, Diana is moonlighting as Wonder Woman, who is only known to the public at this point as a mysterious crime fighter who’s recently been sighted in the D.C. area.

The four thieves who were apprehended by Wonder Woman in the shopping mall weren’t doing a run-of-the-mill theft in a jewelry store. The store had a hidden room with stolen treasure items that were being sold on the black market. One of the items stolen was a citrine, a classic stone used in fake gems throughout history.

A pointed citrine stone that was part of the stolen haul makes its way to the Smithsonian Museum, where the FBI has asked Smithsonian experts to help identify the origins of some of the stolen treasure. One of the Smithsonian experts enlisted for this task is Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), a meek and socially awkward nerd who works in geology, gemology, lithology and cryptozoology.

Barbara is someone who is routinely ignored and/or disrespected by her work colleagues. Her co-workers barely acknowledge her presence when she greets them. Her supervisor Carol (played by Natasha Rothwell) doesn’t even remember interviewing Barbara, or even meeting Barbara, before she asks Barbara for her help with the FBI investigation.

The only person at the Smithsonian who treats Barbara like someone worthy of their social time is Diana, and the two women end up becoming work friends. Barbara and Diana meet when Diana helps Barbara pick some paperwork that Barbara accidentally dropped out of a briefcase on a lobby floor at work. Barbara is desperate for a friend, so she asks Diana to lunch, but Diana says she’s too busy.

However, Diana and Barbara end up in the same room with the stolen treasures in the FBI investigation. And the two women find out that they both have a shared passion for ancient artifacts. The citrine stone is not considered one of the more valuable items, in terms of monetary value. And during their conversation, it’s mentioned that the legend of the stone is that it can grant one wish to the person who holds the stone. Diana holds the stone and silently wishes for Steve to come back to life.

Diana and Barbara have dinner together that day. And over dinner, they talk about their lives. Barbara is a stereotypical middle-aged spinster who lives alone, has no kids and has no love life. The only cliché about this lifestyle that Barbara doesn’t have is a pet cat. But she actually does become a “cat lady” later on in the story.

When Barbara asks Diana if she’s ever been in love, Diana tells her that she used to be in love with an American pilot, who died. Diana doesn’t give any further details, but she makes it clear that she’s still heartbroken and not ready to move on to someone else. Barbara is very insecure about her looks and her prospects of finding love, but Diana tries to give Barbara a confidence boost throughout their conversation.

Diana compliments Barbara by telling her that she’s one of the most natural and funniest people she’s ever met. Barbara is surprised because she’s not used to hearing flattering remarks about herself. She tells Diana, “People think I’m weird. They avoid me and talk about me behind my back and think I don’t hear them.”

After this friendly dinner, Barbara is walking through a park by herself and gives her dinner leftovers to a homeless man. And soon afterwards, a middle-aged drunk and disheveled man (played by Shane Attwooll) accosts her and tries to get her interested in him. Barbara rebuffs his advances and he gets physically aggressive with her. It’s about to turn into a full-blown assault, but Diana comes to the rescue and pushes the man away with such force that he’s thrown to the ground and becomes temporarily incapacitated. Barbara thanks Diana for helping her, and this incident further strengthens their trust in each other and their budding friendship.

When Barbara goes back to her office, she sees the citrine stone and holds it. She says out loud, “I do know what I wish for: I wish to be like Diana: strong, sexy, cool, special.” The stone glows and there’s a slight wind that passes through the air. These visual effects are kind of cheesy, but they work.

Diana goes home and finds out that Steve is there and he has been reincarnated in the body of an unnamed handsome man (played by Kristoffer Polaha), who seems to have no idea that his body is now inhabited by someone who died in 1918. The rest of the world sees the unnamed man as his actual physical self, but Diana only sees Steve when she looks at the man. And that explains why actor Pine is shown as Steve during this reincarnation. (It’s not a spoiler, since Steve’s return was already shown in the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984.”)

Meanwhile, there’s a slick and sleazy business mogul named Maxwell “Max” Lord (played by Pedro Pascal) who’s all over TV with commercials for his company Black Gold Cooperative, which is described as “the first oil company by the people, for the people.” It should come as no surprise that this company and this mogul are not at all what they want people to think they are.

Maxwell’s real last name is Lorenzano, and its later revealed that he’s an ambitious Latino immigrant who changed his last name and appearance (he dyed his hair blonde) to appear more Anglo. He’s also a divorced father who has weekend visitations with his son Alistair (played by Lucian Perez), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Maxwell is shown to be a very neglectful father, and his bad parenting is used as a “pull at your heartstrings” plot device in several scenes in the movie.

Maxwell finds out that the citrine stone is at the Smithsonian Museum. And so, he shows up at the museum one day, under the pretense of wanting to possibly donate millions of dollars to the department that has the stone. Barbara is immediately charmed by Maxwell’s flirtatious manner, while Diana is coolly skeptical.

Maxwell can see that Barbara is a lonely woman who’s desperate for attention, so he continues to flirt with her and makes it clear that he wants to date her. People who aren’t familiar with the “Wonder Woman” comic books can still easily figure out where the storyline is going to go with Barbara, because it’s similar to the more famous Catwoman story arc in DC Comics’ “Batman” series. And the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984” already revealed the result of Barbara’s metamorphosis when there’s a showdown between her and Wonder Woman.

Not all of the action takes place in Washington, D.C., because there’s a subplot that takes Maxwell, Steve and Diana/Wonder Woman to Egypt, where an oil baron named Emir Said Bin Abydos (played by Amr Waked) has a pivotal role in the story. There are also many scenes that are supposed to take place simultaneously in different areas of the world, during the last third of the movie when the plot becomes a bit of a mess. “Wonder Woman 1984” falters when it becomes a little too much of a political statement about the nuclear arms race in the 1980s. The movie redeems itself when it focuses more on human interactions that are more relatable to everyday people.

The romance between Diana and Steve picks up right where it left off, but in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s more playful and amusing than it was in “Wonder Woman.” Steve’s culture shock of living in 1984 is used for great comical effect, as he marvels at 1984 fashion and other things that didn’t exist in 1918, such as escalators, breakdancing and computer-controlled planes. And the rampant materialism and capitalism that defined the 1980s in the United States are shown in not-so-subtle ways throughout the movie, as exemplified in everything from crowded shopping malls to the greedy villain Maxwell Lord.

Fans of Wonder Woman in the DC Comics, the 1970s movie series and as part of the DC Extended Universe will find plenty of things to like about “Wonder Woman 1984.” There are references that stay true to Wonder Woman canon, with a few tweaks here and there. (For example, in the comic books, Barbara Minerva is British, not American.)

And there’s a mention of Asteria, a legendary Amazon from Themyscira who was the first owner of the Golden Eagle armor that Wonder Woman wears in “Wonder Woman 1984.” It’s explained in the movie that Asteria sacrificed herself by wearing the armor while holding off the men who invaded Themyscira. Look for a cameo during the movie’s end credits that will delight a lot of Wonder Woman fans.

Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince can sometimes be a little wooden, but her best moments in the film are in expressing Diana’s grief over the death of Steve. At times, she looks more like a model playing dress-up as Wonder Woman rather than a bona fide action hero, but the visual effects go a long way in adding excitement to the action scenes. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry together isn’t very sexy or passionate, but it is fairly believable in their portrayal of two people who respect each other and were friends before they became lovers.

And for someone who died in 1918 (when women in the U.S. didn’t even have the right to vote), Steve is extremely enlightened in how quickly he adapts to feminist ideals of gender equality. He doesn’t feel threatened or act offended in situations where Diana/Wonder Woman has more abilities and greater strength than he does. At the same time, he doesn’t shrink from expressing his masculinity and showing his talent and skills.

It should come as no surprise that Steve gets to fly a modern plane. One of the best visual scenes in the film is when Steve and Diana fly in an invisible plane through a stunning display of Fourth of July fireworks. Nitpicky viewers will have to assume that the plane has an invisible shield to protect it from the firework explosions.

Because “Wonder Woman 1984” takes quite a bit of time developing the dramatic storylines for Barbara and Maxwell, there might not be as much action in the movie as some people might expect. Most of the suspense comes in the last third of the movie. To get to that point, viewers have to sit through seeing Maxwell become increasingly unhinged in an over-the-top way that often veers into being unintentionally comical.

Pascal’s portrayal of Maxwell as the chief villain is done in broad, over-the-top strokes. Viewers know from the beginning that he’s corrupt, and there’s almost no humanity in this character for most of the movie as he gets more and more maniacal. Wiig fares much better with her portrayal of the emotionally wounded and ultimately misguided Barbara. Her character can be viewed as a symbol of the negative effects of “silent bullying”: when people are treated as outcasts not by insults in their face but by being shunned and ignored.

It’s clear that the filmmakers of “Wonder Woman 1984,” just like the 2019 film “Joker,” wanted to have something more to say about society’s problems and international politics instead of being just another movie based on comic book characters. However, unlike “Joker,” which had an unrelenting but consistent dark and depressing tone, the tone of “Wonder Woman 1984” jumps over the place—and that inconsistency lowers the quality of the movie. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being a lighthearted superhero movie instead of trying to tackle heavy social issues. And sometimes “saving the world” in a superhero movie doesn’t mean you have to get bogged down in international politics over weapons of mass destruction.

“Wonder Woman 1984” was released in cinemas in various countries outside the U.S. on December 16, 2020. The movie’s U.S. release date in cinemas and on HBO Max is December 25, 2020. In the United Kingdom, “Wonder Woman 1984” is set for a VOD release on January 13, 2021.

Review: ‘Monster Hunter,’ starring Milla Jovovich

December 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa in “Monster Hunter” (Photo by Coco Van Oppens/Screen Gems)

“Monster Hunter”

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and in an alternate world, the sci-action flick “Monster Hunter” has a racially diverse cast (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the U.S. military and otherworldly warriors.

Culture Clash: Members of the U.S. military find themselves transported to another world, where they have to fight off monsters with other people from that world.

Culture Audience: “Monster Hunter,” which is based on the videogame of the same name, will appeal primarily to people who like simplistic, formulaic action movies with little to no surprises or substance.

Rathalos in “Monster Hunter” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems/Sony Pictures)

The sci-fi/action time waster “Monster Hunter” is a perfect example of why most video games that get made into movies have bad reputations for being dumb, predictable and lacking a compelling storyline. Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who’s best known for the critically panned “Resident Evil” movie franchise, which is also based on a video game), “Monster Hunter” is based on Capcom’s video game of the same title. At least with the video game, audiences can control the action. With the “Monster Hunter” movie, audiences have to sit through an often-incoherent mess that seems recycled from countless other generic sci-fi/action flicks that have been done before and done much better.

The plot of the movie is as simple as its title. It’s really just a series of battles against giant monsters. Some of the creatures live in desert sand, while others live in caves. The monsters have names like Rathalos, Nerscylla and Black Diablos and resemble everything from giant scorpions to oversized versions of the deadly creatures in “Gremlins.” And just like many other sci-fi movies of this ilk, there’s a mysterious gateway portal that separates Earth from the world where the monsters live.

The beginning of “Monster Hunter” shows a glimpse of the other world, when a ship traveling in treacherous icy waters is attacked by giant monsters. Two of the people on the ship end up playing a pivotal role later on in the story: The ship’s captain named Admiral (played by Ron Perlman, wearing a silly-looking blonde pompadour wig) and Hunter (played by Tony Jaa), a bow-and-arrow slinging warrior who also has the stunt skills of a trained gymnast. It’s also shown that Hunter has a few superpower tricks.

The movie then cuts to an unnamed desert on Earth, where a small squad of U.S. Army soldiers are making their way across the land in jeeps. The squad is led by Capt. Lt. Natalie Artemis (played by Milla Jovovich, also of the “Resident Evil” franchise), who is tough and fearless but also shows a compassionate side and a sense of humor during the course of the story. She might be tough, but she also makes a lot of ludicrously bad decisions.

The soldiers in the squad don’t have much character development in the movie, but they are named Dash (played by Meagan Good); Marshall (played by Diego Boneta); Link (played by Tip “T.I.” Harris); Axe (played by Jin-Au Yeung); and Steeler (played by Josh Helman). Axe and Steeler seem to be good buddies since they have a rapport where they joke around with each other. However, the personalities in this group are fairly interchangeable because they’re so generic.

A tornado-like massive sandstorm with electrical current suddenly appears and overwhelms the squad. They soon find themselves in an even more isolated desert area that they can’t find on their map. Their GPS and communication devices aren’t working. It doesn’t take long for them to discover that they’re not on Earth anymore, because giant monsters (larger than dinosaurs) emerge from the sand and attack the humans. The military firearms and other weapons are no match for these monsters.

Dash is the only one in the group who openly disagrees with Artemis when Artemis tells her squad that they have to fight back against the monsters instead of hiding. Through a series of very predictable events, Artemis ends up meeting Hunter. And there’s the typical long stretch of the movie where Artemis and Hunter clash and don’t know how much they can trust each other.

The visual effects in a movie like “Monster Hunter” should be one of the main attractions, but the quality is uneven. The monsters are convincing in most scenes, but then there are other scenes with cheesy effects, where it’s obvious that the actors were in front of a green screen. One of the main reasons to make a video game into a movie is to have the movie look better than than the video game, but “Monster Hunter” falls short of that intention.

Even worse than the visual effects are scenarios where Artemis sustains injuries that would cripple most people, but she’s later able to demonstrate superhuman strength later on in the story. And let’s not get into the continuity and logic problems, where weapons are used that seem to come out of nowhere. And there are several scenes where Artemis is covered in dirt and grime everywhere except her face.

There are also some scenes that don’t make any sense at all. In one of these moronic scenes, Artemis (who’s already injured, exhausted and getting very dehydrated) is seen on top of a stone structure that’s about as tall as two skyscrapers. It’s a climb that would take several hours, but she’s suddenly shown standing on top, as if she’s some kind of super mountain climber.

Why would Artemis make this long and grueling climb that would deplete her energy and make her even more desperate for water? She did it so she could throw a rock onto the sand to see if any monsters would react. And sure enough, after she throws a rock, a monster emerges from beneath the sand and tries to attack. Keep in mind, this idiotic “test” is well after Artemis barely survived a vicious attack by several monsters that she already knows exist.

Jovovich seems to be doing her best to bring a sense of adventure to her role in “Monster Hunter,” but Artemis is really just a variation of her Alice character in the “Resident Evil” movies. Jaa’s Hunter character isn’t that memorable or unique. And viewers will have a hard time taking Perlman’s Admiral character seriously as a badass leader when he’s wearing a hot mess of a mane that looks like a reject from the Joan Rivers Wig Collection. And let’s not get started on the Meowscular Chef, the humanoid cat character that looks very fake and out of place with the humans.

The script problems, the tacky visual effects and the mediocre acting in “Monster Hunter” might be more tolerable if the action in the movie was truly innovative and suspenseful. But most of the action is very uninspired and at times can be considered quite dull, especially for viewers who’ve seen a lot of action movies. And the movie has an over-used action gimmick of making it look like someone is dead but the person was actually unconscious.

The fight scenes in “Monster Hunter” take a very lazy approach of gunfire, explosions, rinse, repeat. The movie also has a few laughable moments where Artemis believes a hunter-sized knife will be enough to kill these monsters. In one scene, she slices a monster’s skin with the knife, but the result is what would be the equivalent of a paper cut on a human. It’s unfortunate that “Monster Hunter” was made as if the filmmakers think the audience is as stupid as this movie.

Screen Gems released “Monster Hunter” in U.S. cinemas on December 18, 2020.

Review: ‘Greenland,’ starring Gerard Butler

December 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd and Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Greenland”

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of North America, the sci-fi action flick “Greenland” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A structural engineer, his wife and their 7-year-old son are selected by the U.S. government to be part of an elite evacuation program during a comet disaster, and this privileged status causes problems for them when they are separated during the chaos.

Culture Audience: “Greenland” will appeal primarily to people who like suspenseful apocalyptic movies that have underlying commentary about society’s conflicts over social classes and privilege.

Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

Out of all the types of apocalyptic disaster stories that can be told, perhaps the most terrifying is some variation of “the sky is falling,” whether it’s from meteors, comets or another deadly force from outer space. In the above-average sci-fi thriller “Greenland” (directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Chris Sparling), the threat from outer space is a highly unusual comet that scientists at first think is a natural wonder to behold. But the comet turns out to be the worst kind, because it ends up causing worldwide damage and has the power to wipe out most of Earth’s population. 

It’s a concept that’s been done in movies before, but “Greenland” ramps up the suspense level in realistic ways because it’s not too caught up in trying to scare people with visual effects, which are actually done very well in this film. Instead, “Greenland” focuses on the terror experienced by a family of three who get separated from each other in the chaos of an evacuation. There are added layers of stress because the child in this family is diabetic, and the family is targeted by desperate and envious people who want what this family has: privileged U.S. government clearance to be taken to a secret shelter that was built to withstand the worst disasters and attacks.

Like a lot of disaster movies, “Greenland” starts out with people being blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that’s coming their way. In Florida, structural engineer John Garrity (played by Gerard Butler), who is originally from Scotland, is on the job at a construction site, but he wants to get home as soon as possible because his 7-year-old son Nathan (played by Roger Dale Floyd) is having a party where several people in the neighborhood have been invited. John and his American wife Allison (played by Morena Baccarin), who were separated in the past and are now trying to work on their marriage, are organizing the party.

The big news around the world is that there’s an interstellar comet that is passing by Earth, and it’s expected to be the closest fly-by of a comet in Earth’s history. This highly anticipated sighting is such a big deal that people are having watch parties, and the news has been reporting the latest updates on the comet’s trajectory. The comet is considered so safe that it’s been named Clarke.

However, as soon as John gets home, something strange happens: He gets phone messages by text and by robocalls from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These messages order John, Allison and Nathan to report to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, because they have been selected for emergency relocation. The messages demand that no one else can accompany this family of three to the Air Force base.

John doesn’t know if these messages are real or some kind of prank. He tells people at the party about the messages, and they’re not sure if the messages are real either. A few of the adults at the party wonder why they didn’t get these messages too. John doesn’t know why he and his family were selected for this special evacuation.

However, it soon becomes obvious that the messages really are from the U.S. government. While the Garrity family and their party guests are in the living room watching the latest comet news on TV, the first sign that the comet is going to be disastrous comes when it’s reported that a fragment of the comet that was supposed to crash in the ocean near Brazil instead landed in Tampa. The shockwaves caused Tampa to burn, and the inferno blast spread all the way to Orlando.

John and Allison decide to quickly pack up some family belongings and go with Nathan by car to Robins Air Force Base, as instructed. There are some moments of high anxiety when a few of the neighbors beg to go with the Garrity family, but John refuses because he correctly assumes that anyone who doesn’t have government clearance will be turned away. However, he promises that he will contact the neighbors after he finds out more details about what’s going on with the evacuation.

Meanwhile, the Garrity family hears on the car radio that more of the comet’s fragments are wiping out entire parts of the world, including Bogotá, Colombia. Scientists are frantically trying to predict where the fragments might land next, in order to evacuate people from those areas. Anxiety then turns to sheer panic.

Word has gotten out that Robins Air Force Base is one of the designated meeting areas for the evacuees who were selected by the U.S. government. And so, when the Garritys arrive at the Air Force base, they see a terrified and angry mob of people who demand to be let in, even though most of them are not supposed to be there. It’s a foreshadowing of the “haves” and “have nots” conflicts that happen during several scenes in the movie.

Several military personnel are on duty to only allow access to people who are on the government clearance list. And those pre-approved people get yellow wristbands to identify them. There are several Air Force planes waiting to take thousands of people to the same shelter, which is in a classified location that is later revealed to be in Greenland.

The Garrity family makes it safely through the checkpoint, but things take a turn for the worse when they find out that Nathan, who is diabetic, accidentally dropped his insulin in the car when he was looking for a blanket. John finds out that he has only about 15 to 20 minutes before the family’s assigned evacuee plane leaves. He also finds out that all the planes are headed to the same place, so that if he can’t be on the same plane as his wife and son, he’ll hopefully be able to reunite with them at the shelter.

John and Allison hastily make a decision that John will go back to the car to get Nathan’s medicine, while Allison will stay with Nathan and board the plane. However, more complications ensue when Allison speaks to a military guard and tells him about their situation and how they can’t leave without John. And that’s when the guard tells her that because Nathan is diabetic, it’s a health liability, and the Garrity family shouldn’t have been approved for the emergency shelter.

The guard and a colleague then tell Allison and Nathan that they can’t get on the plane after all. Allison and Nathan are then forced to go with the guards to another area, where Allison pleads with another military person to let them on the plane because they don’t want to be separated from John. What happens next are several twists and turns to the story, some of which are unpredictable, while other plot developments are a tad cliché.

All of the cast members give very good performances, even though this movie is not on the type of prestige level where it’s going to get any major awards. The filmmakers avoided the stereotype that a lot of American-made disaster movies have: making the male protagonist/hero someone who was born and raised in the United States. Butler, who is Scottish in real life, keep his native accent in the movie. (Butler is one of the producers of “Greenland,” so that probably had a lot to do with the decision to make John Garrity a Scot too.)

Another non-cliché aspect to “Greenland” is that it doesn’t follow the disaster movie formula of having the hero’s love interest be a passive “damsel in distress.” Allison is no ditz who waits around to be rescued. There are moments where Allison steps up in a big way to help save her family. Baccarin’s portrayal shows a lot of authenticity in how real women would act in the same situation, with all the bravery and vulnerability that comes with it.

John and Allison’s son Nathan is thankfully not written as “too precocious to be true” or a “disease of the week” kid. Floyd capably portrays Nathan’s intelligent sensitivity as a kid who just happens to have diabetes. The movie also makes a point of showing how Nathan’s medical condition quickly changed the status of the Garrity family from “desirable” to “undesirable” candidates for evacuation. It speaks to the prejudice that people could encounter in a similar situation where governments decide who in the population will get preferential treatment in a mass evacuation. 

One of the other memorable characters in “Greenland” is Allison’s widower father Dale (played by Scott Glenn), who somewhat mistrusts John because of the problems in John and Allison’s marriage. And there’s a married couple in the story named Judy Vento (played by Hope Davis) and Ralph Vento (played by David Denman), who play a key role in one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the movie.

Throughout the film, director Waugh never lets up on the frantic pace after the comet disaster strikes. (Waugh and Butler previously worked together on the 2019 action film “Angel Has Fallen.”) And when it comes to characters, “Greenland” wisely takes a “less is more” approach, since the story is focused on this family of three and their perspective for the entire film. It’s a departure from the typical disaster movie that has different storylines for a group of strangers. Simply put: “Greenland” is an apocalyptic movie that isn’t going to change the world, but it largely succeeds in being suspenseful, escapist entertainment.

STX released “Greenland” on VOD on December 18, 2020. The movie will be released on digital on January 26, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 9, 2021.

2021 Critics Choice Super Awards: ‘Lovecraft Country,’ ‘Palm Springs’ are the top nominees

November 19, 2020

Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett and Michael K. Williams in “Lovecraft Country” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade/HBO)

The following is a press release from The CW:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced today the nominees for the inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards, a special event honoring the most popular, fan-obsessed genres across both television and movies, including Superhero, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Horror, Action and Animation. The winners will be revealed in a special television presentation, which will be produced remotely following COVID safety protocols, hosted by writer/director/podcaster Kevin Smith and actress/writer Dani Fernandez. The ceremony will air on The CW Network on Sunday, January 10, 2021 (8:00-10:00pm ET/PT) and will stream the next day for free on The CW App and cwtv.com.

The Critics Choice Association will also present the Legacy Award to the “Star Trek” franchise, recognizing the cultural impact it has had across multiple decades while continuing to appeal to and grow its loyal fanbase with new stories and characters. “Star Trek” icon Patrick Stewart, and “Star Trek: Discovery” trailblazer Sonequa Martin-Green will personally accept this special honor, which comes as the franchise celebrates its 55th anniversary.

Hulu and NEON’s “Palm Springs” leads this year’s film nominees, with a total of five including Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie for Andy Samberg, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie and Best Villain in a Movie for J.K. Simmons, and Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie for Cristin Milioti. Several films followed close behind with four nominations including “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.), “Freaky” (Universal), “Onward” (Disney+), “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount), “The Hunt” (Universal), “The Old Guard” (Netflix), and “The Willoughbys” (Netflix).

“Lovecraft Country” (HBO) received the most television nominations, with a total of six possible wins, including Best Horror Series, Best Actor in a Horror Series for Jonathan Majors, Best Actor in a Horror Series for Michael K. Williams, Best Actress in a Horror Series for Wunmi Mosaku, Best Actress in a Horror Series for Jurnee Smollett, and Best Villain in a Series for Abbey Lee. Amazon’s “The Boys” received five nominations including Best Superhero Series, Best Actor in a Superhero Series and Best Villain in a Series for Antony Starr, Best Actor in a Superhero Series for Karl Urban, and Best Actress in a Superhero Series for Aya Cash.

Several performers received recognition for both their film and television work. Hilary Swank was nominated for Best Actress in an Action Movie and Best Villain in a Movie for “The Hunt” (Universal), as well as Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series for “Away” (Netflix), making her the most nominated individual. Maya Rudolph was nominated for Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie for “The Willoughbys” (Netflix) as well as Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series for “Big Mouth” (Netflix). Jurnee Smollett was nominated for Actress in a Superhero Movie for “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.) and Best Actress in a Horror Series for “Lovecraft Country” (HBO).

“What a celebration this is going to be!” said Critics Choice Association CEO Joey Berlin. “We are so pleased to be spotlighting the brilliant work of so many artists who bring to life some of the most engaging and beloved movies and television series! We are certain that Kevin and Dani will serve as tremendous hosts, who, as fans themselves, will bring energy and enthusiasm to the stage, as we honor these genres that so often go overlooked and underappreciated.”

The inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards show will be produced by Bob Bain Productions. The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig.

Follow the Critics Choice Super Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was organized last year with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About The CW

The CW Television Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS, launched in 2006. The CW is a multiplatform network that broadcasts a six-night 12-hour primetime lineup, Sunday through Friday and streams its ad-supported content, free, without login or authentication on CWTV.com and The CW app which is available on every major OTT platform. In daytime, The CW broadcasts a Monday through Friday afternoon block, and a three-hour Saturday morning kids block. The CW’s digital network, CW Seed, launched in 2013, and offers beloved limited-run series, as well as past seasons of recent fan-favorite television shows. For more information about the network and its programming, visit www.cwtvpr.com.

FILM NOMINATIONS FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Extraction (Netflix)
Greyhound (Apple TV+)
The Hunt (Universal)
Mulan (Disney+)
The Outpost (Screen Media)
Tenet (Warner Bros.)

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Tom Hanks – Greyhound (Apple TV+)
Chris Hemsworth – Extraction (Netflix)
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost (Screen Media)
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Will Smith – Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
John David Washington – Tenet (Warner Bros)

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Betty Gilpin – The Hunt (Universal)
Yifei Liu – Mulan (Disney+)
Blake Lively – The Rhythm Section (Paramount)
Iliza Shlesinger – Spenser Confidential (Netflix)
Hilary Swank – The Hunt (Universal)

BEST ANIMATED MOVIE
Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Over the Moon (Netflix)
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix)
Soul (Disney+)
The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Wolfwalkers (Apple/GKIDS)

BEST VOICE ACTOR IN AN ANIMATED MOVIE
Jamie Foxx – Soul (Disney+)
Will Forte – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Tom Holland – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
John Krasinski – Animal Crackers (Netflix)
Chris Pratt – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Sam Rockwell – The One and Only Ivan (Disney+)

BEST VOICE ACTRESS IN AN ANIMATED MOVIE
Tina Fey – Soul (Disney+)
Honor Kneafsey – Wolfwalkers (Apple / GKIDS)
Maya Rudolph – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Phillipa Soo – Over the Moon (Netflix)
Octavia Spencer – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Eva Whittaker – Wolfwalkers (Apple / GKIDS)

BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE*
Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)
The Old Guard (Netflix)
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Animation)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE*
Skylar Astin – Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Jim Carrey – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – The Old Guard (Netflix)
Ewan McGregor – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE*
Kiki Layne – The Old Guard (Netflix)
Peyton Elizabeth Lee – Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Margot Robbie – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
Jurnee Smollett – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
Charlize Theron – The Old Guard (Netflix)

BEST HORROR MOVIE
Freaky (Universal)
The Invisible Man (Universal)
Relic (IFC Films)
The Rental (IFC Films)
Sputnik (IFC Films)

BEST ACTOR IN A HORROR MOVIE
Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù – His House (Netflix)
Pyotr Fyodorov – Sputnik (IFC Films)
Michiel Huisman – The Other Lamb (IFC Films)
Dan Stevens – The Rental (IFC Films)
Vince Vaughn – Freaky (Universal)

BEST ACTRESS IN A HORROR MOVIE
Haley Bennett – Swallow (IFC Films)
Angela Bettis – 12 Hour Shift (Magnet Releasing)
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man (Universal)
Kathryn Newton – Freaky (Universal)
Sheila Vand – The Rental (IFC Films)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE
Love and Monsters (Paramount)
Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Possessor (Neon)
Synchronic (Well Go USA)
The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)

BEST ACTOR IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE
Christopher Abbott – Possessor (Neon)
Jake Horowitz – The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)
Anthony Mackie – Synchronic (Well Go USA)
Andy Samberg – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE
Ally Ioannides – Synchronic (Well Go USA)
Katherine Langford – Spontaneous (Paramount)
Sierra McCormick – The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Andrea Riseborough – Possessor (Neon)

BEST VILLAIN IN A MOVIE
Jim Carrey – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Kathryn Newton – Freaky (Universal)
Martin Short and Jane Krakowski – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Hilary Swank – The Hunt (Universal)

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Movies


NOMINEES BY FILM FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

12 Hour Shift (Magnet Releasing) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Angela Bettis

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix) – 1
Best Animated Movie

Animal Crackers (Netflix) – 1
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – John Krasinski

Bad Boys for Life (Sony) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Will Smith

Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Ewan McGregor
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Margot Robbie
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Jurnee Smollett

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Delroy Lindo

Extraction (Netflix) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Chris Hemsworth

Freaky (Universal) – 4
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Vince Vaughn
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Kathryn Newton
Best Villain in a Movie – Kathryn Newton

Greyhound (Apple TV+) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Tom Hanks

His House (Netflix) – 1
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Sope Dìrísù

Love and Monsters (Paramount) – 1
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Mulan (Disney+) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Yifei Liu

Onward (Disney/Pixar) – 4
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Tom Holland
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Chris Pratt
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Octavia Spencer

Over the Moon (Netflix) – 2
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Phillipa Soo

Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon) – 5
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Andy Samberg
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – J.K. Simmons
Best Villain in a Movie – J.K. Simmons
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Cristin Milioti

Possessor (Neon) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Christopher Abbott
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Andrea Riseborough

Relic (IFC Films) – 1
Best Horror Movie

Secret Society of Second Born Royals (Disney+) – 3
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Skylar Astin
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Peyton Elizabeth Lee

Sonic The Hedgehog (Paramount) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Jim Carrey
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Ben Schwartz
Best Villain in a Movie – Jim Carrey

Soul (Disney+) – 3
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Jamie Foxx
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Tina Fey
Best Animated Movie

Spenser Confidential (Netflix) – 1
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Iliza Shlesinger

Spontaneous (Paramount) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Katherine Langford

Sputnik (IFC Films) – 2
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Pyotr Fyodorov

Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Animation) – 1
Best Superhero Movie

Swallow (IFC Films) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Haley Bennett

Synchronic (Well Go USA) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Anthony Mackie
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Ally Ioannides

Tenet (Warner Bros) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – John David Washington

The Hunt (Universal) – 4
Best Action Movie
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Betty Gilpin
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Hilary Swank
Best Villain in a Movie – Hilary Swank

The Invisible Man (Universal) – 2
Best Horror Movie
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Elisabeth Moss

The Old Guard (Netflix) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Kiki Layne
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Charlize Theron

The One and Only Ivan (Disney+) – 1
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Sam Rockwell

The Other Lamb (IFC Films) – 1
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Michiel Huisman

The Outpost (Screen Media) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Caleb Landry Jones

The Rental (IFC Films) – 3
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Dan Stevens
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Sheila Vand

The Rhythm Section (Paramount) – 1
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Blake Lively

The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Jake Horowitz
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Sierra McCormick

The Willoughbys (Netflix) – 4
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Will Forte
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Maya Rudolph
Best Villain in a Movie – Martin Short and Jane Krakowski

Wolfwalkers (Apple/GKIDS) – 3
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Honor Kneafsey
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Eva Whittaker


TELEVISION NOMINATIONS FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

BEST ACTION MOVIE
9-1-1 (Fox)
Hanna (Amazon)
Hunters (Amazon)
S.W.A.T. (CBS)
Vikings (History)
Warrior (Cinemax)

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION SERIES
Daveed Diggs – Snowpiercer (TNT)
Andrew Koji – Warrior (Cinemax)
Logan Lerman – Hunters (Amazon)
Alexander Ludwig – Vikings (History)
Shemar Moore – S.W.A.T. (CBS)
Al Pacino – Hunters (Amazon)

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION SERIES
Angela Bassett – 9-1-1 (Fox)
Jennifer Connelly – Snowpiercer (TNT)
Esme Creed-Miles – Hanna (Amazon)
Mireille Enos – Hanna (Amazon)
Katheryn Winnick – Vikings (History)
Alison Wright – Snowpiercer (TNT)

BEST ANIMATED SERIES
Archer (FXX)
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Central Park (Apple TV+)
Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)

BEST VOICE ACTOR IN AN ANIMATED SERIES
Will Arnett – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
H. Jon Benjamin – Archer (FXX)
Nick Kroll – Big Mouth (Netflix)
John Mulaney – Big Mouth (Netflix)
Jack Quaid – Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
Justin Roiland – Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
J.B. Smoove – Harley Quinn (HBO Max)

BEST VOICE ACTRESS IN AN ANIMATED SERIES
Kaley Cuoco – Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
Tawny Newsome – Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
Maya Rudolph – Big Mouth (Netflix)
Amy Sedaris – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Aisha Tyler – Archer (FXX)
Jessica Walter – Archer (FXX)

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES*
The Boys (Amazon)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW)
Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max)
The Flash (The CW)
Lucifer (Netflix)
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPERHERO SERIES*
Jon Cryer – Supergirl (The CW)
Tom Ellis – Lucifer (Netflix)
Grant Gustin – The Flash (The CW)
Antony Starr – The Boys (Amazon)
Karl Urban – The Boys (Amazon)
Cress Williams – Black Lightning (The CW)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPERHERO SERIES*
Melissa Benoist – Supergirl (The CW)
Aya Cash – The Boys (Amazon)
Diane Guerrero – Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max)
Elizabeth Marvel – Helstrom (Hulu)
Lili Reinhart – Riverdale (The CW)
Cobie Smulders – Stumptown (ABC)

BEST HORROR SERIES
Evil (CBS)
The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Supernatural (The CW)
The Walking Dead (AMC)

BEST ACTOR IN A HORROR SERIES
Jensen Ackles – Supernatural (The CW)
Mike Colter – Evil (CBS)
Michael Emerson – Evil (CBS)
Jonathan Majors – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Ben Mendelsohn – The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Jared Padalecki – Supernatural (The CW)
Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST ACTRESS IN A HORROR SERIES
Natalie Dormer – Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Showtime)
Cynthia Erivo – The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Katja Herbers – Evil (CBS)
T’Nia Miller – The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Wunmi Mosaku – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Victoria Pedretti – The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Jurnee Smollett – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Outlander (Starz)
Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Upload (Amazon)
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

BEST ACTOR IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES
Robbie Amell – Upload (Amazon)
Travis Fimmel – Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Sam Heughan – Outlander (Starz)
Kayvan Novak – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Pedro Pascal – The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Nick Offerman – Devs (FX on Hulu)
Patrick Stewart – Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES
Caitriona Balfe – Outlander (Starz)
Amanda Collin – Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Natasia Demetriou – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Sonequa Martin-Green – Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Thandie Newton – Westworld (HBO)
Hilary Swank – Away (Netflix)
Jodie Whittaker – Doctor Who (BBC America)

BEST VILLAIN IN A SERIES
Tom Ellis – Lucifer (Netflix)
Abbey Lee – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Samantha Morton – The Walking Dead (AMC)
Sarah Paulson – Ratched (Netflix)
Antony Starr – The Boys (Amazon)
Finn Wittrock – Ratched (Netflix)

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Series


NOMINEES BY SERIES FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

9-1-1 (Fox) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actress in an Action Series – Angela Bassett

Archer (FXX) – 4
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – H. Jon Benjamin
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Aisha Tyler
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Jessica Walter

Away (Netflix) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Hilary Swank

Big Mouth (Netflix) – 4
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Nick Kroll
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – John Mulaney
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Maya Rudolph

Black Lightning (The CW) – 1
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Cress Williams

BoJack Horseman (Netflix) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Will Arnett
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Amy Sedaris

Central Park (Apple TV+) – 1
Best Animated Series

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW) – 1
Best Superhero Series

Devs (FX on Hulu) – 1
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Nick Offerman

Doctor Who (BBC America) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Jodie Whittaker

Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max) – 2
Best Superhero Series
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Diane Guerrero

Evil (CBS) – 4
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Mike Colter
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Michael Emerson
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Katja Herbers

Hanna (Amazon) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actress in an Action Series – Esme Creed-Miles
Best Actress in an Action Series – Mireille Enos

Harley Quinn (HBO Max) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – J.B. Smoove
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Kaley Cuoco

Helstrom (Hulu) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Elizabeth Marvel

Hunters (Amazon) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Logan Lerman
Best Actor in an Action Series – Al Pacino

Lovecraft Country (HBO) – 6
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jonathan Majors
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Michael K. Williams
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Wunmi Mosaku
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Jurnee Smollett
Best Villain in a Series – Abbey Lee

Lucifer (Netflix) – 3
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Tom Ellis
Best Villain in a Series – Tom Ellis

Outlander (Starz) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sam Heughan
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Caitriona Balfe

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Showtime) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Natalie Dormer

Raised by Wolves (HBO Max) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Travis Fimmel
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Amanda Collin

Ratched (Netflix) – 2
Best Villain in a Series – Sarah Paulson
Best Villain in a Series – Finn Wittrock

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim) – 2
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Justin Rolland

Riverdale (The CW) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Lili Reinhart

S.W.A.T. (CBS) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Shemar Moore

Snowpiercer (TNT) – 3
Best Actor in an Action Series – Daveed Diggs
Best Actress in an Action Series – Jennifer Connelly
Best Actress in an Action Series – Alison Wright

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sonequa Martin-Green

Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Jack Quaid
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Tawny Newsome

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Patrick Stewart

Stumptown (ABC) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Cobie Smulders

Supergirl (The CW) – 2
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Jon Cryer
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Melissa Benoist

Supernatural (The CW) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jensen Ackles
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jared Padalecki

The Boys (Amazon) – 5
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Antony Starr
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Karl Urban
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Aya Cash
Best Villain in a Series – Antony Starr

The Flash (The CW) – 2
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Grant Gustin

The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actress in a Horror Series – T’Nia Miller
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Victoria Pedretti

The Mandalorian (Disney+) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Pedro Pascal

The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Ben Mendelsohn
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Cynthia Erivo

The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) – 1
Best Superhero Series

The Walking Dead (AMC) – 2
Best Horror Series
Best Villain in a Series – Samantha Morton

Upload (Amazon) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Robbie Amell

Vikings (History) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Alexander Ludwig
Best Actress in an Action Series – Katheryn Winnick

Warrior (Cinemax) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Andrew Koji

Westworld (HBO) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Thandie Newton

What We Do in the Shadows (FX) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Kayvan Novak
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Natasia Demetriou


NOMINEES BY NETWORK/STUDIO FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

Netflix – 35
HBO / HBO Max / DC Universe and HBO Max – 18
Amazon / Amazon Studios – 16
Disney+ – 15
CBS / CBS All Access – 13
The CW – 10
Universal – 10
FX / FXX / FX on Hulu – 8
IFC Films – 8
NEON – 8
Paramount – 7
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros. Animation – 7
Apple TV+ / Apple/GKIDS – 6
Hulu – 6
History – 3
MRC Television – 3
Starz – 3
TNT – 3
Well Go USA – 3
Adult Swim – 2
AMC – 2
Cinemax – 2
Fox – 2
Screen Media – 2
Sony / Sony Pictures – 2
ABC – 1
BBC America – 1
Magnet Releasing – 1
Showtime – 1

Review: ‘Honest Thief,’ starring Liam Neeson

October 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Walsh and Liam Neeson in “Honest Thief” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Honest Thief”

Directed by Mark Williams

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Boston area, the action-crime thriller “Honest Thief” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A notorious bank robber battles with FBI agents when he decides to turn himself into authorities.

Culture Audience: “Honest Thief” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable thrillers that have a lot of credibility issues.

Anthony Ramos and Jai Courtney in “Honest Thief” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films) 

If there’s an action drama with Liam Nesson as the star, then you can bet that his character in the movie is out for revenge. The problem is that Neeson has made so many of these types of “revenge movies” that they all blend together after a while, except for the “Taken” franchise which is its own separate beast. Therefore, it’s understandable if viewers really can’t tell one Neeson pulpy thriller from the next one. At least with “Honest Thief,” the title is a reminder of what type of character Neeson portrays in the movie. The film’s title might be distinctive, but the movie’s mediocre plot and action definitely are as generic and unimaginative as they can be.

In “Honest Thief” (directed by Mark Williams), Neeson plays Tom Dolan, also known as Tom Carter, a notorious bank robber whose modus operandi is to set off explosives to open a safe in a bank while the bank is closed for business. (Tom lives in the Boston area, and Neeson keeps his native Irish accent for this role.) Tom always chooses banks with older safes (which are easier to open) and which are located next to vacant buildings, so the explosives won’t affect a building next door that has an active business.

Tom has robbed 12 banks in seven states over the past eight years. And his total robbery haul is about $9 million, and he’s been successfully able to elude capture for all of these years. Law enforcement has no idea who the bank robber is, and the bank robber is nicknamed the In and Out Bandit by the media, because of how quickly and efficiently he commits the crimes.

But Tom’s life is about to change when he meets Annie Wilkins (played by Kate Walsh), who works as a clerk at a place that rents storage units. Tom goes there to rent a medium-sized unit, which viewers can immediately tell is where he’s going to hide money that he stole from the bank robberies. Tom and Annie flirt a little during this transaction, which indicates that Annie might just become more than a passing encounter.

The movie then fast forwards to one year later. Annie and Tom are now a couple, and they are looking at a big house that Tom is going to purchase in Newton, Massachusetts. Tom then surprises Annie by asking her to move in with him. But she’s hesitant because she’s still recovering from a traumatic divorce and is very reluctant to take her relationship with Tom to the level of “live-in partner.”

Annie hasn’t lived with anyone since her divorce. As she tells Tom, “I just don’t want to go through that again.” Tom tells her, “You won’t have to.” And because Annie really likes the house and seems to really love Tom, she then changes her mind and says yes. Annie is studying psychology to become a therapist, which is a skill she’s going to need when she has to deal with all the crazy things that happen to her in this movie.

But what about Tom’s secret life as a bank robber? He’s about to come clean and face the consequences. While staying at the Charleston Hotel, Tom calls the FBI’s Boston office and confesses that he’s the bank robber called the In and Out Bandit. He also mentions that he hates that nickname because he thinks it’s tacky, as if that’s something he should be concerned about in the moment that he confesses to his serious crimes.

The FBI agent who talks to Tom on the phone is Agent Sam Baker (played by Robert Patrick), who listens to Tom’s confession with a great deal of skepticism. Tom tells Baker that he will turn himself in and give back all the money that he stole, on the conditions that he serve a reduced sentence with a maximum of two years, and it must be at a minimum-security prison that’s near Boston.

Baker almost laughs when he tells Tom that the law doesn’t work that way, but Tom stands firm on his demands. When Baker asks Tom why he’s confessing, Tom says it’s because he met a special woman, he can no longer live with the guilt of his big secret, and he wants to start a new life with her after he serves his prison time. Tom hasn’t robbed any banks since he fell in love with Annie.

Tom tells Baker that he’s at the Charleston Hotel in Room 216. Baker then tells Tom that he will look into Tom’s claims, but Baker comments that the FBI has gotten a lot of false confessions from people claiming to be the In and Out Bandit. Tom insists that he’s telling the truth about being the real In and Out Bandit. (And he is.)

While Baker is taking this call, he’s sitting across from his colleague Agent Myers (played by Jeffrey Donavan), who’s even more hard-nosed and more cynical than Baker. Both men have a lot of respect for each other though. Myers considers Baker to be his mentor and closest friend in the FBI.

There’s a minor running joke in the movie that Myers often has his small white-and-brown dog named Tazzie with him. It’s a dog that he doesn’t really want, but he got the dog in a bitter divorce from his ex-wife, who got to keep their former marital home. And, out of spite, he doesn’t want to give the dog back to his ex-wife. Myers doesn’t mistreat the dog, but Tazzie is often seen tagging along with Myers in places that you wouldn’t expect to see a small dog during an intense FBI operation.

The dog’s presence is one of the few semi-humorous things in “Honest Thief,” which takes itself way too seriously for being such a formulaic and substandard movie. (“Honest Thief” director Williams co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Steve Allrich.) There’s plenty of action, but much of it has so many unrealistic consequences, that anyone watching this movie will have to drop any expectations that “Honest Thief” is nothing more than a cheap retread of Neeson’s other “anti-hero” rampage movies, where he gets angry at certain people and won’t stop until they’re all injured or killed.

Agent Baker thinks that Tom is just another crackpot giving a false confession, so he hands off the report to two subordinate FBI agents named Agent Pete Nivens (played by Jai Courtney) and Agent Mario Hall (played by Anthony Ramos). Nivens is single and very ambitious in his career. Hall is a happily married man with a young son.

The difference between these two men becomes obvious when Nivens complains to Hall about how parents unnecessarily gush about their children to make childless people feel like they’re missing out in life. Nivens basically tells Hall that he thinks being a parent is overrated. Later in the movie, Nivens (who thinks of himself as an “alpha male”) repeatedly manipulates Hall by using Hall’s love for his son as a way for Nivens to get Hall to do what Nivens wants.

Nivens and Hall go to the Charleston Hotel to visit Tom and investigate Tom’s claims. Tom tells these two FBI agents that he hid the robbery money in a storage unit and offers to show it to them as proof. However, Nivens orders Tom to stay at the hotel and says that he and Hall will go to the storage unit by themselves. Tom reluctantly gives them the key to the storage unit and tells them where the storage unit is.

Nivens and Hall go to Tom’s storage unit and find out that Tom was telling the truth, because they find millions of dollars in cash hidden in boxes. Nivens then convinces a reluctant Hall that they should steal all the money for themselves and pretend to everyone else that the money was never there. Nivens appeals to Hall’s desire to be able to pay for whatever his family wants, as a way to persuade Hall that he will never have any more money problems for the rest of his life.

Nivens and Hall are packing up the boxes of cash in their car trunk when Annie suddenly approaches them to ask what they’re doing with Tom’s stuff. Annie mentions that she saw them on the office’s surveillance cameras, and she came outside to investigate. Nivens and Hall lie and tell Annie that Tom asked them to help move some of his items from the storage unit.

Because Tom had told Annie that he was temporarily staying at a hotel due to plumbing repairs in his home, she believes want Nivens and Hall have to say. Even though Annie is suspicious, she asks a lot of leading questions that are easy for the crooked FBI agents to lie about, such as, “How do you know Tom? Did you serve in the Marines with him?” And, of course, they say yes.

Putting aside the fact that they know they’ve been caught on camera taking things out of the storage locker, the stupidity of Nivens and Hall’s decision to steal the money also comes from the fact that they wouldn’t be able to spend all that money without arousing suspicion. And who knows if that stolen bank money has bills that are marked? These are things that FBI agents and other law-enforcement officials are trained to know about, but the corrupt FBI dimwits in this sloppily written movie don’t consider these very realistic factors.

And not to mention that a snake like Nivens wouldn’t hesitate to double-cross his partner in crime, so Hall is incredibly naïve for putting his trust in Nivens. Hall finds out how much of a loose cannon Nivens can be when something happens after Hall and Nivens get back to the hotel and they lie to Tom by saying that they didn’t find any money in the storage unit. What happens next in the hotel sets off a chain of events that lead to Tom going on the run, Annie getting caught up in the danger, and certain FBI agents chasing in dogged pursuit.

When there’s a movie as poorly thought-out as “Honest Thief,” sometimes it can be entertaining because of the action sequences. But the action in “Honest Thief” is very unremarkable and has been seen in dozens of other movies just like it. People get beaten up, there are some explosions, some car chases, some shootouts, some chases on foot. And there are lots of scenes where Neeson just barrels along with injuries that, in real life, would put someone in an emergency room at a hospital.

“Honest Thief” is just another unimpressive action showcase for Neeson as yet another angry and misunderstood loner who’s out for self-righteous vengeance while he goes through the expected motions with gun violence and other predictable stunts. Neeson has been sticking to this formula for quite some time for his action films, so most of his fans should know what to expect. Anyone expecting high-quality entertainment from “Honest Thief” will definitely feel cheated.

Open Road Films released “Honest Thief” in U.S. cinemas on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘Love and Monsters,’ starring Dylan O’Brien

October 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dylan O’Brien in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Love and Monsters”

Directed by Michael Matthews

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and other parts of the U.S., the sci-fi/horror/adventure film “Love and Monsters” has a predominantly white cast (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) portraying the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 24-year-old man goes on a quest to reunite with his former high-school sweetheart during an apocalypse in which deadly mutant monsters have taken over the world.

Culture Audience: “Love and Monsters” will appeal to several generations of people who like sci-fi/horror movies that successfully blend other genres, such as comedy, action, romance and drama.

Jessica Henwick in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Even though “Love and Monsters” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which mutant monsters have killed off about 95% of the human population, the movie is not a grim and horrific slog that many people would expect it to be. In fact, “Love and Monsters” (directed by Michael Matthews) has a lot of charming comedy as well as heartfelt dramatic moments that can appeal to a wide variety of people. It’s the type of winning movie that people would want to see repeatedly and ask for a sequel. (And the end of the “Love and Monsters” definitely leaves open the possibility that there could be a continuation of the story.)

The central character of “Love and Monsters” is Joel Dawson (played by Dylan O’Brien), a 24-year-old “regular guy,” who lives in an underground bunker with several other young people who are under the age of 40. Apocalypse survivors who live together as a community call themselves a colony. According to Joel’s voiceover narration in the beginning of the movie, the apocalypse (which is called the Monsterpocalypse) happened when chemical compounds from bombs rained back down on Earth and caused animals to mutate into giant monsters.

The monsters killed most of the world’s human population within a year. The survivors fled underground, they live in colony bunkers, and go above ground in hunting parties to search for food. In addition to food that they find above ground, the members of Joel’s colony survive by growing their own food inside the bunker. They also have a cow for milk.

“Love and Monsters” takes place seven years after the Monsterpocalypse began. Joel is an orphan whose parents were killed right when the apocalypse started while the family was trying to escape the monsters that invaded their neighborhood. Joel (who is an an only child) is originally from Fairfield, California, a city about 45 miles northeast of San Francisco. Like most apocalypse survivors, Joel doesn’t have any biological family members who are still alive.

Joel has found a new family with the colony of survivors who rescued him when the apocalypse began. However, Joel feels like somewhat of an outsider in the group. All of the other members of the colony have coupled up (and one couple has had a baby together), while Joel is the only one who doesn’t have a love partner. He also gets scared easily and freezes up when he sees monsters. Therefore, the colony doesn’t consider Joel to be useful for hunting trips and anything that would involve defending their colony from danger.

However, Joel is good at fixing things, he’s loves to draw, and he’s the colony’s main cook. One of the gadgets that Joel likes to tinker with is the bunker’s portable radio, which is the main way that colonies communicate with each other. (Television, phones and the Internet don’t exist in this world.)

Through a lot of investigating and persistence, Joel has found out that his first love, Aimee (played by Jessica Henwick), who was his girlfriend in high school, is living in a colony about 85 miles away in a place called Jenner Beach. He makes contact with Aimee, and she seems thrilled to hear from Joel. Over a period of time, they continue to talk to each other over the radio. And Joel finds himself falling in love with Aimee again.

When Joel and Aimee dated in high school (the movie has a few brief flashback scenes to this time period), their romance was interrupted because they were forced to flee separately with their respective families during the apocalypse. And then, Joel and Aimee lost touch with each other, until now. Because Joel feels like the “odd man out” in his colony, he’s starting to wonder if he really belongs there.

Joel’s colony has a close call when a monster invades the bunker and nearly kills Joel, who is rescued just in time by some other people in the colony who shoot the monster and kill it. This incident causes Joel’s self-esteem to take another hit because he believes that the other members of the colony think of him as a cowardly wimp. This near-death experience and his yearning to reunite with Aimee motivate Joel to say goodbye to his colony to go above ground and reunited with Aimee.

The members of Joel’s colony are disappointed to see him go and they’re very skeptical that Joel will be able to survive this trip on his own. But Joel is determined to go. All they can do is wish him well. One of the members of the colony gives him a map, while Joel takes some other items on the trip, including weapons and a portable radio that hasn’t worked in a long time.

Joel’s trip isn’t always dangerous, but it has a lot of close calls with a variety of giant mutant animals. One of the first that he encounters is a giant frog in someone’s abandoned backyard. Joel is rescued from the giant frog by an intelligent and expressive Australian Kelpie, which Joel calls Boy. This stray dog becomes Joel’s constant companion throughout most of the movie. And the scenes with Joel and Boy are among the best in “Love and Monsters.”

At another point in the movie, Joel accidentally falls into a pit that’s the nest of a creature called a sandgobbler. This time, he’s rescued by two humans: a middle-aged macho man named Clyde (played by Michael Rooker) and a sassy 8-year-old girl named Minnow (played by Ariana Greenblatt), who are not related to each other but are traveling together because their family members have died.

Minnow initially teases Joel over his tendency to get frightened easily, but Minnow eventually learns to respect Joel when he improves his target and defense skills. Clyde and Minnow are traveling north to a destination called Snow Mountain Wilderness, which has a colony of survivors who say the location is safer than other places because the cold and elevation keep the monsters away. The camaraderie between these three seemingly unlikely travel companions is also one of the highlights of “Love and Monsters.”

Clyde and Minnow invite Joel to go to Snow Mountain Wilderness with them. And when all three of the travelers reach the literal crossroads where Joel has to decide to go with Clyde and Minnow or continue west to reunite with Aimee, it’s easy to know what decision he will make. The rest of the movie takes a few twists and turns that refreshingly avoid a lot of predictable scenarios.

The visual effects for “Love and Monsters” are above-average, but they’re not going to be nominated for any major awards. The movie’s world building and how these creatures look are a commentary on the hazardous and deadly effects of humans who don’t take care of the environment. And the environment gets revenge on the humans in this apocalyptic way. The deadly mutant creatures include giant snails and what’s considered the most fearsome and worst mutant monster of them all: the Queen Sandgobbler, which looks like a giant mutant crab.

But not all of the monsters are deadly. Some of the giant creatures just want to be free to live without being hunted, and there’s a message in the movie about how monsters can be judged by looking at their eyes. It sounds a lot cornier than how it’s handled in the movie. One type of harmless creature is the sky jellyfish, which appear in one of the most touching and visually compelling scenes in the movie.

O’Brien, who was the star of “The Maze Runner” movie series, takes on a very different type of post-apocalyptic world in “Love and Monsters,” where humans are more likely to be helpful to each other, rather than have their lives revolve around the cutthroat and cruel competitions that are the basis of “The Maze Runner.” That doesn’t mean all is harmonious among people in the world of “Love and Monsters.” Someone can be expelled from a colony for stealing food, which is considered one of the worst crimes to commit in the “Love and Monsters” world.

The “Love and Monsters” screenplay was written by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, who successfully mix various genres in the story. Most of the humor comes from Joel’s self-admitted awkwardness and insecurities, which many viewers will ultimately find endearing because he remains a humble person who’s a romantic at heart. Duffield also wrote and directed the critically acclaimed 2020 film “Spontaneous,” another Paramount Pictures movie about a young romance during a plague, although “Spontaneous” has a darker edge that’s geared to mature audiences. Thanks to assured direction, a genre-blending original story, and an appealing cast of characters, “Love and Monsters” is a crowd-pleaser that invites people into a world that’s very perilous to live in, but it’s a world that viewers will want to revisit and see what happens next.

Paramount Pictures released “Love and Monsters” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘The Doorman’ (2020), starring Ruby Rose and Jean Reno

October 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ruby Rose in “The Doorman” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Doorman” (2020)

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the action flick “The Doorman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A former Marine takes a job as a doorman at an upscale apartment building and finds herself battling with art thieves who take her and some of her family members hostage.

Culture Audience: “The Doorman” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic and forgettable action movies.

Jean Reno in “The Doorman” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Doorman” is one of those “taken hostage and trapped in a building” movies that’s nothing more than a predictable and uncreative variation of the classic 1988 Bruce Willis film “Die Hard.” Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, “The Doorman” makes almost no attempt to do anything new with the formula that’s been endlessly copied since “Die Hard” became an influential blockbuster. The only fairly unusual aspect of the film is that the action hero in this movie is a woman. And the movie is a reminder that being a front-lobby attendant is such a male-dominated job that it’s still referred to as being a doorman.

Three people are credited with writing “The Doorman” screenplay: Lior Chefetz, Joe Swanson and Devon Rose. And apparently none of them could think of a plausible reason for why a cell phone couldn’t be used to get help in this emergency situation when the hero of the story temporarily breaks free from the hostages but is still in the apartment building where the home invasion takes place. Viewers are expected to accept the flimsy explanation that cell-phone service isn’t working in that particular building because the building is undergoing renovations.

Before the hostage situation happens, the movie gives a brief introduction to the protagonist of “The Doorman” and the life she had before she began working in the upscale New York City apartment building that’s taken hostage. Her name is Ali Gorsky (played by Ruby Rose), a serious-minded and stoic type who was a sergeant in the Marines. She was part of an elite U.S. military team stationed in an unnamed country. One of her duties was being a bodyguard for an unnamed female U.S. ambassador (played by Andreea Vasile) and the ambassador’s daughter Nira (played by Andreea Androne), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

While traveling to a speaking engagement, the ambassador is in a convoy of cars in front of and behind her car as protection as they drive through a secluded wooded area. Ali and Nira are along for the ride too. Suddenly, numerous gunmen emerge from the woods and ambush the fleet of cars. The assassins have war weapons, including a rocket launcher, while the military defenders, who just have regular guns, are quickly killed off, one by one.

All of the assassins’ victims die except for Ali, who tries in vain to save the ambassador and her daughter, who become easy targets in the back seat of a car when a rocket launcher is aimed right at them. The explosion propels Ali into the woods in some very cheesy and not-very-believable visual effects, which morph into Ali in New York City waking up from a nightmare where she remembered what happened on that terrible day.

Needless to say, by the time Ali is seen in New York City, she has already left the military in disgrace and she needs another job. She meets with her uncle Pat (played by Philip Whitchurch) at a local bar, where she’s reluctant to talk about her traumatic experience. Pat works as a contractor for building repairs and renovations, and he tells Ali about a job opening for a doorman in the high-rise apartment building where he’s doing renovations. She reluctantly agrees to interview for the job.

The building is called The Carrington, and it’s in an upscale area on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s the type of building that was built before World War II and used to be a hotel. Most of the residents have temporarily moved out because of the renovations. However, some of the residents who are still living there have reasons for why they’ve been allowed to stay in the building.

This poorly written movie doesn’t really show Ali interviewing for the job, which she gets shortly before Easter. She just shows up and meets someone named Borz Blasevic (played by Aksel Hennie), who presents himself as the chief doorman/superintendent, and he immediately tells her to get dressed in the work uniform in the unisex locker room. Borz knows that Ali was referred to by Pat, but Pat tells Ali that he doesn’t want Borz to know that Ali is related to Pat.

And it just so happens that Ali has other relatives in the building, and they are among the few residents who are still living there during the renovations: Her brother-in-law Jon Stanton (played by Rupert Evans), a professor who’s originally from England; Jon’s son Max (played by Julian Feder), who’s about 15 or 16 years old; and Jon’s daughter Lily (played by Kila Lord Cassidy), who’s about 11 or 12 years old.

Jon is a widower who used to be married to Ali’s late sister, whose cause of death is not mentioned in the movie. It’s also not mentioned how long Ali’s sister has been dead, but it’s implied that it’s been less than two years. Jon is a written as a generic father with not much of a personality. Max, who is often sullen, has antisocial tendencies because he apparently spends a lot of time alone smoking marijuana and playing video games. Lily is a typical “adorable and precocious” kid that movies like this tend to have whenever children are taken hostage.

Jon and his children have been allowed to remain in the building because they aren’t going to stay for much longer: After Easter vacation, they plan to move back to England, where Jon works. After her sister’s death, Ali has been avoiding being around Jon and the kids because of a secret that is very easy to predict from the moment that Jon and Ali first see each other when he finds out that she’s now working in the building.

On her first day on the job, Ali meets two of the other remaining residents in the building: an elderly couple named Bernard Hersh (played by Petre Moraru) and his wife (played by (Delianne Forget), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Bernard had a stroke seven years before, he almost never talks, and he’s wheelchair-bound. His wife, who is his caretaker, explains to Ali that building management allowed them to continue living at The Carrington during renovations because moving to another building would upset Bernard too much.

It isn’t long before danger comes to The Carrington, when a French thief named Victor Dubois (played by Jean Reno) and his small gang of henchmen arrive for a home invasion in the Hershes’ apartment. Of course, these thugs had some help from a building insider, and it’s very easy to figure out who that person is in this relatively small cast of characters. This “inside job” criminal barricades the front door from the inside with chains and a padlock, so the hostages can’t escape. (The movie never shows if any back doors or side doors are also barricaded.)

Victor is there to steal some valuable art paintings that are in the building, and Bernard knows where they are. But things go awry because Victor doesn’t know until he gets there that Bernard is nearly mute and can’t really tell the information that Victor wants. This leads to a torture scene and Victor finding out that the Hershes used to live in the apartment where the Stantons currently live.

And guess who’s taken hostage next while they’re having Easter dinner? Ali is off-duty at the Stantons’ apartment, having what she thought would be just an awkward family reunion dinner at Easter. And because she’s off-duty, she happens to be wearing high heels, which are supposed to make her look like a “feminine badass” when she has the inevitable fights with the home invaders.

The rest of “The Doorman” is about Ali trying to save her relatives through a series of often-preposterous scenarios. The Carrington happens to be a building with hidden rooms and hidden dumbwaiter shafts. And there’s an underground tunnel that was supposed to be a subway tunnel but construction on the tunnel was halted decades ago, and the tunnel was sealed up behind a wall.

As the main character in this stereotypical action flick, Rose doesn’t have much to do except act tough and go through the choreographed motions for the fight sequences. Ali shows some glimmers of being humanly vulnerable in moments with Jon and the children. But for the most part, Ali has a very wooden personality, and Rose doesn’t have much acting range to bring more charisma to this formulaic character.

French actor Reno has been playing villains in B-movies for quite some time, so there’s nothing new or exciting that he does in “The Doorman.” He usually portrays the “brains” of a criminal operation who gets other people to do most of the dirty work. In “The Doorman,” the Victor character is no different, except this mastermind criminal makes a lot of stupid and arrogant decisions that just drag the movie out longer, in order to create a false sense of suspense.

“The Doorman” is the type of bad movie that isn’t so bad that it’s laughable. It’s the type of bad movie that will induce boredom because it’s so tiresome in how unimaginative it is. The fight scenes are unremarkable, and the acting is mediocre at best. The characters you expect to get killed are the ones who get killed. The characters you expect to survive are the ones who survive. There are video games that are better than this cliché-ridden, soulless movie.

Lionsgate released “The Doorman” on digital and VOD on October 9, 2020, and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 13, 2020.