Review: ‘Wildflower’ (2023), starring Kiernan Shipka, Dash Mihok, Charlie Plummer, Erika Alexander, Samantha Hyde, Jacki Weaver and Jean Smart

March 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left: Reid Scott, Alexandra Daddario, Jean Smart, Charlie Plummer, Kiernan Shipka, Samantha Hyde, Dash Mihok, Jacki Weaver and Brad Garrett in “Wildflower” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

“Wildflower” (2023)

Directed by Matt Smukler

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Nevada (and briefly in Van Nuys, California), the comedy/drama film “Wildflower,” which is based on real people, features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class. middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A sarcastic and intelligent teenager, who is in her last year of high school, gets in a coma after a mysterious accident, and she narrates her life story of being raised by intellectually disabled parents whom she resents because they depend on her to be the most responsible person in the household.

Culture Audience: “Wildflower” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching rambling and disjointed stories about teenagers and bickering families.

Kannon Omachi and Kiernan Shipka in “Wildflower” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

Based on a true story, “Wildflower” has an admirable performance from Kiernan Shipka, but there are too many problems with this uneven dramedy, including awkward subplots that go nowhere and underdeveloped characters that are bad parodies of real people. It’s one of those movies that has much of the narrative coming from voiceovers of a character who’s supposed to be in a coma. Very few movies can pull off this type of narrative in a way that is appealing. In “Wildflower,” the coma narration is cringeworthy—and so are many other parts of this misguided film.

Directed by Matt Smukler and written by Jana Savage, “Wildflower” is inspired by the real-life experiences of Smukler’s family. According to the “Wildflower” production notes, the protagonist of the movie is based on Smukler’s niece Christina. As part of Christina’s college admission application to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Smukler made a short documentary film about Christina’s experiences growing up as a child of parents with intellectual disabilities. Savage came up with the idea to make Christina’s story into a scripted feature film. The result is “Wildflower” (which had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival), but the film takes shameless detours into formulaic schmaltz that cheapens the quality of what could have been a more meaningful movie.

In the beginning of “Wildflower” (which takes place mostly in an unnamed city in Nevada) viewers see Bambi “Bea” Johnson (played by Shipka) is in a coma in a hospital. Bea is 17 years old and in her last year of high school. She has a head injury, but no one at the hospital knows how she got the injury. A flashback later shows how an unconscious Bea ended up at the hospital and what caused her injury. Bea’s voiceover narration tells viewers that she can’t remember how she got injured either, but she wants to tell her life story, based on what she remembers of her life.

Several of Bea’s worried family members have gathered in the hospital room. And because this movie is filled with clichés about bickering families, it doesn’t take long for the arguing to start. The movie doesn’t do a very good job of introducing these family members, who talk over each other and disjointedly show up in this hospital scene that takes place in the beginning of the movie. You probably have to take notes (mentally or literally) to keep track of all these squawking relatives.

Bea is the only child of Derek Johnson (played by Dash Mihok) and Sharon Johnson (played by Samantha Hyde), who have intellectual disabilities. A flashback later explains that Derek got a head injury in a car accident when he was 12 years old. Sharon was born with an underdeveloped brain.

Derek and Sharon used to live in Van Nuys, California, and they met when Sharon was 21, and Derek (who was around the same age, maybe slightly older) was hired by Sharon’s parents to mow the family’s lawn. Sharon and Derek began dating each other soon afterward. Derek and Sharon quickly fell in love wither each other, and they eloped—much to the dismay of both of their families.

Sharon’s parents are Peg McDonald (played by Jean Smart) and Earl Edelman (played by Brad Garrett), who are now divorced. (Peg went back to her maiden surname after the divorce.) Peg and Earl are among the family members who are in Bea’s hospital room.

Derek’s parents are Loretta (played by Jacki Weaver) and Hal (played by Chris Mulkey), who are also divorced. Hal is not in the hospital room, but Loretta is—much to the disdain of Peg, because the two women have had a longstanding feud with each other. Derek is an only child.

Peg has another daughter: the materialistic and vain Joy (played by Alexandra Daddario), who has a condescending attitude toward her sister Sharon. Joy and her equally snooty husband Ben (played by Reid Scott) are also in the hospital room. Peg is a control freak who constantly complains if things don’t go her way. Joy is a lot like Peg.

Loretta, who smokes a lot and drinks a lot of alcohol, immediately annoys Peg by lighting up a cigarette inside the hospital room. It’s a very rude (not to mention illegal) thing for Loretta to do in a hospital room, but Peg is the only one in the family with the backbone to stand up to Loretta about it. The movie makes it a running gag that Loretta’s constant cigarette smoking annoys Peg. And it’s a “joke” that quickly gets old and tiresome. Loretta’s obnoxiousness is supposed to look “cute” because she’s a senior citizen, but it just looks grating.

Flashbacks show that after Derek and Sharon got married, both of their parents were worried about Derek and Sharon not being capable of raising a family. During a family meeting between Derek’s parents and Sharon’s parents, both couples agreed that it would be a bad idea for Derek and Sharon to become parents. The purpose of the meeting was to figure out what to do about this marriage that does not have the approval of all four of the newlyweds’ parents. However, there was a big disagreement about what to do.

Sharon’s parents (who raised Sharon as Jewish) thought that Derek and Sharon should get divorced as soon as possible. However, Derek’s parents (especially Loretta) are strict Catholics who think divorce is a big stigma. Loretta suggested that Sharon be sterilized and said that Sharon was a promiscuous temptress who “trapped” Derek into this marriage. (Loretta used cruder terms than that to describe Sharon.) Peg was deeply offended by Loretta’s remarks and has held a grudge against Loretta ever since. Neither of these parents’ schemes became a reality, since Derek and Sharon became parents to Bea and remain happily married throughout this story.

More flashbacks show that when Bea was 10 years old (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong), her father Derek illegally taught her how to drive. The secret is exposed when Bea crashed the car on a neighborhood street (fortunately, no one was hurt) when Bea went looking for the family dog, which ran out of the house because Sharon left the front door open. Although Bea denied being the driver of the car, Derek and Sharon were declared unfit parents. Joy and Ben (who had become parents of twin sons at this point) got custody of Bea.

Joy and Ben find out that Bea is extremely resistant to their rules and their trendy New Age way of parenting. From a very young age, Bea was expected to handle a lot of responsibilities for her parents, who treated her like a mini-adult who didn’t have the type of rules and discipline that other kids were expected to have. Bea is bratty and rebellious under the guardianship of Ben and Joy. Ben privately tells Joy what he thinks of Bea’s irreverence: “She’s like a feral dog.”

Eventually, Derek and Sharon convince child welfare authorities to let them have custody of Bea again. She has spent her teenage years living with her parents. As a compromise to giving back custody of Bea to her parents, Joy and Ben have insisted on paying for Bea to go to an elite private school.

Derek has problems holding a steady job. He currently works as a janitor at a recreational games center. He also plans to become a rideshare driver. Sharon, who is a gambling addict, was getting disability payments from the government until Derek put a stop to it, because he doesn’t think Sharon is disabled. Bea has a part-time job doing janitorial work at her school, to help pay for her parents’ household expenses, but she gets angry and frustrated because her parents often irresponsibly spend the money that they take from her.

There’s a lot of Bea’s family history to unpack in this movie, but “Wildflower” has a very disappointing way of starting off on one tangent and then not really finishing it before going on to others tangents and not really finishing them either. The results are an erratic, overstuffed movie fllled with a lot of underdeveloped characters, unfinished subplots and unanswered questions. “Wildflower” also has trouble balancing the comedy and drama.

There’s a very distracting and unnecessary subplot about a children’s protective services worker named Mary (played by Erika Alexander), who first met Bea on the day of the car accident. And lo and behold, Mary shows up years later at the hospital, while Bea is in a coma. Even though there’s no evidence that Bea’s parents were responsible for Bea’s head injury, Mary is there to investigate, since Bea’s parents lost custody of Bea in the past.

And so, there are several scenes of Mary awkwardly interviewing people close to Bea. Mary wants to find out who caused the injury, and she wants to determine if Bea’s parents are fit to take care of Bea if she wakes up from the coma and is discharged from the hospital. Mary is inclined to think that Bea’s parents will need help taking care of Bea in Bea’s recovery.

Bea’s life in high school is also told mostly in flashbacks. Before she ended up in a coma, Bea was an outstanding academic student whose favorite subject was astronomy. She’s also a star of the school’s track team. However, she shuns the idea of being a “popular” student. She feels like a misfit at this school, because she comes from a low-income household and because her parents are disabled.

Bea has a guidance counselor at school named Alex Vasquez (played by Victor Rasuk), who has been encouraging Bea to apply to universities to continue her education. However, Bea has been very reluctant because she thinks she needs to skip college to take care of her parents. Bea is also worried about how much college tuition might cost, even though Mr. Vasquez assures Bea that she’s such an excellent student, she should have no problems getting a scholarship. UCLA is one of the universities that Mr. Vasquez suggests to Bea.

Another person who thinks Bea should go to a university after she graduates from high school is Ethan Rivers (played by Charlie Plummer), a classmate who has recently transferred to this high school. Ethan comes from a rich family (his father owns the “largest Porta Potty company in Nevada”), but he downplays his wealth in order to let people know that he’s humble and down-to-earth. Many of the students automatically think Ethan is kind of weird because the word has gotten out that Ethan had testicular cancer that left him with one testicle.

Bea’s best friend at school is Mia Tanaka (played by Kannon Omachi), who is a brainy eccentric, just like Bea. And there’s predictably a “mean girls” clique that bullies and taunts Bea and Mia. This clique is led by an ultra-snob named Esther (played by Chloe Rose Robertson), who is attracted to Ethan, but she’s already dating someone else. Ethan, who’s in the same astronomy class as Bea, tries to get close to her by offering to share his class notes with her, but she rebuffs his obvious interest in her the first time that he talks to her.

Mia and Bea act like they don’t care about being accepted by the “cool kids,” but they really do care, because Mia and Bea tell Sharon to buy alcohol for them (it was Bea’s idea) so they can take the alcohol as a gift to crash a house party hosted by Esther. Also at the party is Ester’s older brother Tyler (played by Josh Plasse), an adult of college age who gets a snide remark from Bea because she says it’s pathetic that someone of Tyler’s age is partying with mostly underage high schoolers. It’s at this party that Bea and Ethan connect for the first time.

“Wildflower” then drones on and on with typical high school drama that sometimes gets very dull. Mia and Bea made a pact not to go to their school prom, but then things change when Ethan asks Bea to the prom, and she says yes. There’s some love triangle jealousy between Ethan, Bea and Esther. And, of course, there’s more arguing between Bea and her parents.

Nowhere does this movie explain why Bea has to do cleanup work at her high school, when there are so many other part-time jobs she could have had that wouldn’t make her feel embarrassed in front of her peers. It all just looks contrived for a scene so that “mean girl” Esther and “snarky underdog” Bea can have a verbal confrontation where Esther tries to humiliate Esther, and Bea makes snappy comments as a comeback. (This isn’t spoiler information. It’s shown in the movie’s trailer.)

The romance between Ethan and Bea is sweet but very rushed and at times hard to believe. Even though Ethan meets Bea’s parents and wholeheartedly accepts them with no judgment, Bea never shows an interest in meeting Ethan’s family, nor does Ethan invite her to meet his family. It’s yet another question that the movie never bothers to answer. Meanwhile, the friendship between Mia and Bea is reduced to superficial scenes of them shopping together and debating about whether or not it’s worth going to their school’s upcoming prom.

There are several talented cast members in “Wildflower,” but only Shipka has a character with layers to a personality. Everyone else just kind of drifts in and out of the story, in service of vapid sitcom scenarios or melodrama that often looks fake. “Wildflower” does the biggest disservice to Weaver, whose aggressively clownish Loretta character is very beneath Weaver’s immense talent.

The movie’s depiction of disabled people sometimes falls into negative stereotypes. “Wildflower” is not unwatchable, but it lacks a clear vision and a cohesive narrative. For a movie with a lot of voiceover narration, it ultimately doesn’t have a lot of interesting things to say.

Momentum Pictures released “Wildflower” in select U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on March 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Die in a Gunfight,’ starring Alexandra Daddario, Diego Boneta, Justin Chatwin, Billy Crudup, Wade Allain-Marcus, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Travis Fimmel

July 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Diego Boneta and Alexandra Daddario in “Die in a Gunfight” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Die in a Gunfight”

Directed by Collin Schiffli

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Die in a Gunfight” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ne’er-do-well heir from a wealthy media family tries to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend, who comes from a rival media family, while a hit man and her jealous former bodyguard, who wants to marry her, get messily involved in the lives of this would-be couple.

Culture Audience: “Die in a Gunfight” will appeal primarily to people who want to watch a painfully dull and unfunny action comedy inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Justin Chatwin in “Die in a Gunfight” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

If William Shakespeare were alive, he would retch at how “Die in a Gunfight” shamelessly steals from “Romeo and Juliet” and rots it down to the tackiest levels. It’s an action comedy that’s boring and witless. And it’s one of those mind-numbingly bad movies that doesn’t have enough of a story to fill a feature-length film, so it just bloats the movie with the cinematic equivalent of hot air.

There are some bad movies that at least should be given credit for trying to be original. However, “Die in a Gunfight”—directed and Collin Schiffli and written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari—has absolutely no originality in any of its ideas. In addition to the “Romeo and Juliet” storyline for the movie’s would-be couple, “Die in a Gunfight” regurgitates plots and tropes that have been seen in too many other movies.

There’s the wacky hitman. There’s the love triangle with a jealous third person who wants to tear the would-be couple apart. There’s the “snitch” who’s been targeted for a murder plot. There’s the forgettable series of gun shootouts, fist fights and chase scenes. And it’s all tangled up in moronic dialogue and substandard acting.

“Die in a Gunfight” takes place in an unnamed big U.S. city (“Die in a Gunfight” was actually filmed in Toronto), where two media mogul families have been feuding for years. Billy Crudup, a Tony-winning and Emmy-winning actor, provides anonymous voiceover narration for “Die in a Gunfight.” He spares himself the embarrassment of not appearing on camera in this messy slop of a movie. Someone must’ve called in a big favor to have an actor of Crudup’s caliber in this movie, because he’s definitely slumming it here.

As the unidentified narrator explains, the Gibbon family and the Rathcart family have been feuding with each other since 1864. That’s the year when patriarch Theodore Gibbon’s newspaper published an unflattering story about patriarch Carlton Rathcart’s shoes. An argument ensued, and Theodore shot Carlton to death. The two families became bitter enemies ever since.

In the present day, each family owns a media empire—Gibbon Telecommunications and Rathcart Corporation—that fiercely competes with each other. Two married couples currently lead these two dynasties: Henry Gibbon (played by Stuart Hughes) and Nancy Gibbon (played by Nicola Correia-Damude) for Gibbon Telecommunications, and William Rathcart (played by John Ralston) and Beatrice Rathcart (played by Michelle Nolden) for Rathcart Corporation.

The husbands are the CEOs of their repsective companies, while their wives don’t seem to work and are socialites. Henry and Nancy Gibbon have a 27-year-old son named Ben (played by Diego Boneta), while William and Beatrice Rathcart have a daughter named Mary (played by Alexandra Daddario), who’s about the same age as Ben. It should be noted that, just like their mothers, Mary and Ben don’t seem to have jobs. It would explain why Ben and Mary have way too much time on their hands to get involved in the stupid shenanigans that this movie has for them.

The jumbled storytelling in “Die in a Gunfight” doesn’t reveal this family information from the beginning. Instead, the opening scene has animation and the narrator explaining that Ben has been in about 32.8 brawls a year since he was 5 years old—and he’s lost every single one of those fights. (You’d never know it though, because Ben is a pretty boy whose face doesn’t look banged up at all.) Ben was living an aimless, detached life until he fell in love with Mary when they were in high school. Needless to say, their parents didn’t approve of their romance.

However, Mary (a privileged rebel who’s been kicked out of every private school she attended) was shipped off to boarding school in Paris. The two teens had made plans to run off together to Mexico when they got old enough to legally do what they want. Ben sent her frequent letters by email, but Mary never answered them. A heartbroken Ben assumed that Mary lost interest in him, and that ignoring his email was her way of breaking up with him. Haven’t these people heard of phones or text messages?

A flashback shows that a depressed Ben, sometime in his mid-20s, ended up going to Mexico by himself. He was about to hang himself from a tree, but there was a mishap and he tumbled down a cliff and right into a guy around his age named Mukul (played by Wade Allain-Marcus), who was being held at gunpoint by a thug who was about to execute Mukul. This random tumble ended up saving Mukul’s life because it also knocked the gun out of the thug’s hand, and Mukul was able to chase away his would-be killer.

Seven months later, Mukul and Ben became best friends who vowed not to tell anyone the real way that they met. Mukul moved to the U.S. with Ben, where they are seen in the present day crashing a high-society party that’s being held at a mansion. At this party are Mary, Ben’s parents and Mary’s parents. Mary’s parents are predictably annoyed that Ben is there.

Ben hasn’t seen Mary in years, but they look at each other as if they still have have a romantic spark between them. They don’t talk for long, and their conversation is awkward and uncomfortable. Ben and Mukul decide to leave the party, but not before they steal a bunch of fur coats as they exit the mansion.

Ben sees Mary again at a nightclub, where she is trying to avoid someone from her past: Terrence Uberahl (played by Justin Chatwin), who used to be her bodyguard hired by her father. Terrence currently works as a corporate executive/fixer for William Rathcraft. But what Terrence really wants is to marry Mary.

Terrence isn’t afraid to tell Mary that he’s in love with her, but it’s not real love. It’s an obsession. At a private back room in the nightclub, Terrence (whose persona is a mixture of sleazy and dorky) proposes marriage to Mary. He even bought her a diamond engagement ring. Mary is turned off because she’s never been interested in Terrence and never gave him an indication that she wanted to be his romantic partner. Mary immediately says no to this marriage proposal.

Meanwhile, Ben has found himself in another private back room in the nightclub. He’s randomly ended up in the room with a horny married couple named Wayne McCarty (played by Travis Fimmel) and Barbie McCarty (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui), who soon make it known to Ben that they’re swingers. Wayne (who has an unhinged demeanor throughout the movie) encourages Barbie to try to seduce Ben, because apparently Wayne likes to watch Barbie be with other men.

Here’s the awful dialogue that’s in this scene: Wayne tells Ben, “My wife thinks you’re cute—like a rabbit.” Wayne tells Barbie, “Why don’t you go over there and play with your new pet rabbit?” Ben tries to fend off Barbie’s advances, but Wayne gets offended.

Wayne asks Ben how Ben wants to die. Ben replies, “I want to die in a gunfight.” The next thing you know, Wayne gets in a fist fight with Ben. And since the movie’s narrator has already stated that Ben always loses in fights, viewers already know how this brawl is going to end. But before that happens, Wayne kisses Ben on the mouth during the fight.

Not long after this bizarre encounter, Ben and Mary rekindle their romance. It’s about the same time that Mary’s ruthless father is about to possibly experience a scandal that could ruin him financially and send him to prison. A Rathcart Corporation employee named Pamela Corbett-Ragsdale (played by Caroline Raynaud) is about to come forward in a press conference with some bombshell information about the company that directly implicates William Rathcart.

In a private meeting between William and his lackey Terrence, William orders Terrence to hire a hit man to murder Pamela before this whistleblower press conference can happen. Guess which hit man gets hired for the job? Terrence also uses this deadly assignment as an opportunity to ask William for his blessing to marry Mary. William doesn’t seem thrilled with the idea of having Terrence as a son-in-law, but he says he will approve of the marriage if Pamela is murdered.

The rest of the movie is a tedious and irritating dump of bad ideas and even worse acting. Fimmel is the only one in the cast who makes an attempt to have a little campy fun in what he must have surely known was a stinker of a film. However, the rest of the cast members just embarrass themselves with acting that is either too stiff or too hammy. The characters of Barbie and Mukul are completely useless.

The action sequences, which should be among this movie’s biggest assets, are uninteresting and sloppy. As for the movie’s romance, it’s the epitome of empty and shallow. It doesn’t help that Boneta and Daddario do not have convincing chemistry with each other. The only thing that really dies in “Die in a Gunfight” is the expectation that this movie will get better as it goes along, because the ending is just atrocious and the worst part of this idiotic movie.

Lionsgate released “Die in a Gunfight” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 16, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 20, 2021.

Review: ‘Songbird,’ starring KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stromare, Alexandra Daddario and Demi Moore

December 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

KJ Apa in “Songbird” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Songbird”

Directed by Adam Mason

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles during a coronavirus pandemic in the year 2024, the sci-fi thriller “Songbird” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: During the pandemic, a minority of people have immunity to the disease but are also supercarriers of the virus, and this dichotomy affects relationships and has caused a black market to sell illegal immunity passes.

Culture Audience: “Songbird” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky disaster movies with ridiculous plot developments.

Peter Stromare in “Songbird” (Photo courtesy of STX)

In the horrifically tasteless disaster film “Songbird,” which takes place during a coronavirus pandemic that has killed millions of people and devastated the entire world, unscrupulous and greedy people have exploited the situation so that they can benefit financially. Ironically, it’s the same mindset that is obviously why this moronic film was rushed into production during the real-life COVID-19 pandemic—to cash in on people’s fears about the pandemic and use the movie’s pandemic storyline as a gimmick to sell it during a real-life pandemic. The results are a useless movie where every single second looks like it was based on an early, substandard screenplay draft, with none of the filmmakers caring about taking the time to improve the film’s quality.

“Songbird” (directed by Adam Mason, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Simon Boyes) takes place in Los Angeles in the year 2024. The worldwide mortality rate has risen to 56% and 8.4 million people have died because of COVID-23, which is supposed to be a deadlier strain than COVID-19. And there’s no vaccine. The desolate and devastated landscape of Los Angeles looks like a city in the aftermath of a tornado, and there’s a general atmosphere that a corrupt, totalitarian government is in charge. Because of this high mortality rate, Los Angeles has been on lockdown, with people ordered to stay at home, except for essential workers.

One of those essential workers is a bike courier in his mid-20s named Nicholas “Nico” Price (played by KJ Apa), who works for an online retailer called Lester’s Gets, which sells a variety of items that people can use in their homes. It’s not a giant company, because Nico’s boss Lester (played by Craig Robinson) is the only person shown in the dark video control room that monitors the movements of the company’s couriers, via GPS. In other words, the film’s budget was so low that the filmmakers didn’t bother to cast anyone else to work in this monitor room.

Lester communicates frequently with Nico and has to watch Nico like a hawk, because Nico often takes detours, goofs off, and is late with deliveries. For example, in one of the movie’s scenes, Nico randomly shoots hoops at a basketball court while in the middle of a delivery. Lester lectures Nico about Nico’s constant tardiness, but Nico acts like someone who knows he probably won’t be fired.

And why hasn’t Nico been fired because of his tardiness? Because he’s one of the small minority of people on Earth who are immune to COVID-23, and therefore he can freely go outside without needing any face coverings. However, these Immunies, as they’re nicknamed in this movie, are also supercarriers of COVID-23. And so, they’re both envied and shunned by the general population.

Immunies are identified by immunity passes (which look like yellow wristbands) that can be scanned to reveal their personal information. These immunity passes are highly coveted by people who want to be able to go outside whenever they want without fear of being fined or arrested. People are required to take frequent COVID-23 tests at home, which are done on government-issued hand-held monitors that can diagnosis people just by scanning their faces.

People who are found to be infected with COVID-23 are forced to go to the Q-Zone, which is not a health recovery center but it’s described in the story as a death detention center. These detentions are handled by the sanitation department, which is headed by Emmett D. Harland (played by Peter Stromare), who’s an Immunie. Emmett is such an over-the-top, creepy villain that you just know he’s involved in more misdeeds than just being rough and unmerciful with the people he detains.

Because of these drastic changes in society, Los Angeles (and presumably, most of the rest of the modern world) has become a place where people have become paranoid about going outside, for fear of being sent to the Q-Zone. Masked military soldiers patrol the streets and are ready to send people to the Q-Zone if they don’t have immunity passes. Some of these patrollers are quick to draw their guns if they see anyone on the street without a mask. It’s what happens to Nico when he tries his make his way to a home for a delivery, and he’s blocked by overzealous soldiers until Nico shows them his immunity pass.

The high demand for immunity passes has caused these passes to be sold on the black market at prices that can only be afforded by wealthy people or people who can come up with the cash any way that they can. Two of the people who are considered among the top-tier sellers of illegal immunity passes are unhappily married couple William Griffin (played by Bradley Whitford) and Piper Griffin (played by Demi Moore), who are already living an upscale life but apparently are greedy and want more money. William’s day job is as a high-ranking executive in the music industry, even though the movie never shows him doing any work except his illegal side hustle of selling immunity passes.

And because “Songbird” is a movie like the 2005 drama “Crash,” which eventually shows how everyone in the story is connected to each other in some way, the Griffins’ home is one of the places where Nico makes a delivery. People are not allowed to open their doors to delivery people. Instead, deliveries are dropped into a capsule outside a home, and the item in the capsule is then disinfected through ultra-violet rays.

Nico has been to the Griffin home enough times that the house residents recognize him when he arrives. William and Piper have a daughter named Emma (played by Lia McHugh), who’s about 11 or 12 years old and who has respiratory problems, because she always has to wear an oxygen tube. The implication is that she’s especially vulnerable to getting COVID-23.

Emma is really just a “token” underdeveloped character that doesn’t serve any purpose in the movie except to try to make William and Piper look more sympathetic. It’s a futile effort, because these two spouses, who have simmering hatred for each other, are ruthless and sleazy, although one of them turns out to be a lot worse than the other. An innocent and sweet kid like Emma doesn’t deserve the parents she has.

Meanwhile, although Nico might seem to have a cavalier and cocky exterior when he’s on the job, the movie slowly shows that he’s actually in a lot of emotional turmoil. His entire family is dead, presumably because of COVID-23. And before the pandemic, he was a paralegal with plans to become a lawyer, but he had to abandon those dreams. There’s a scene where Nico goes back to the now-deserted law office where he used to work and bitterly goes through some of the remnants of his past.

But more heartbreaking for Nico than the loss of his career dreams is the fact that he’s fallen in love with a woman who’s around his age, but they haven’t been able to be in the same room together because of the pandemic. Her name is Sara Garcia (played by Sofia Carson), who lives in an apartment with her beloved grandmother Lita (played Elpidia Carrillo), whom Sara calls Grammy. Sara’s parents are also dead because of COVID-23.

Nico and Sara met when he made a delivery to her apartment. They had an instant connection and fell in love through constant contact over the phone. Nico also visits Sara by going to her apartment, but not going inside and instead talking to her outside the apartment door. It’s explained that the apartment building is under heavy government surveillance, because it’s a “hot spot” for COVID-23 infections. Therefore, Nico and Sara know they could be arrested if he’s allowed inside her apartment, and Sara and Lita could be sent to the dreaded Q-Zone.

Sara sees firsthand (through her front-door keyhole) how brutal one of these arrests can be, when one of her female neighbors is dragged from her apartment, yelling and pleading for mercy, because the neighbor tested positive for COVID-23. Before the hazmat-suit-wearing sanitation workers arrive to take her to the Q-Zone, the neighbor begs Sara to let her inside Sara’s apartment to hide, but Sara refuses to hide the neighbor, on Nico’s advice. Emmett is supervising this particular detainment with sadistic glee. And he vows that he will be back to this apartment building to get more people because he’s convinced that the entire building is infected.

There are several scenes in “Songbird” where Nico talks to Sara through her apartment door, like he’s her pandemic Romeo to her quarantined Juliet. It’s supposed to be romantic, but Nico and Sara just utter cheesy soap-opera-type dialogue to each other that will make viewers roll their eyes or laugh at the corniness of it all. And when Lita starts having a persistent cough, you know exactly where this movie is going to go in the “race against time” part of the film that’s supposed to make this movie a suspenseful thriller.

Meanwhile, one of Lester’s employees who works from home is a lonely paraplegic named Dozer (played by Paul Walter Hauser), a military veteran in his mid-30s who lost the use of his legs during the war in Afghanistan. Dozer, who’s been a self-described shut-in for the past six years, uses a drone to keep track of Lester’s courier employees. Dozer has a strong sense of right and wrong and likes feeling as if he’s a “rescuer,” which all affect his actions later in the story.

Dozer has been a subscriber to a pretty YouTuber named May (played by Alexandra Daddario), who is a self-described struggling singer/songwriter. She has a YouTube channel called May Sings the Blues, where she sings cover songs and her own original music during livestreams and in prerecorded videos. People who watch her YouTube channel have the option to donate money to her, because she often tells her viewers that the pandemic has made it impossible for her to make money by performing in person.

Dozer has been one of her biggest donors, so May decides to connect with him online and reaches out to him to personally thank him. They begin chatting and soon get very candid with each other about the problems in their lives. Dozer tells May about being a shut-in: “I was in lockdown before it was fashionable.”

May tells Dozer that she moved to Los Angeles because a guy in the music industry promised to make her a big star. She and the guy ended up having an affair, which she now regrets, but the guy still wants to keep seeing her. And then the pandemic happened, and she’s been stuck in an uncomfortable limbo where she still needs the guy to help her with her career, but she wants to break off their affair.

Because of the strict lockdown, it’s illegal for people to have in-person social visits with other people who don’t live in the same household, but May’s lover insists on visiting her for their sexual encounters. May confides in Dozer that she’s afraid of getting infected and/or arrested because of this guy. Dozer offers to help her any way that he can. May’s “mystery lover” is eventually revealed, and it will be shocking to no one who’s seen enough of these types of formulaic, unimaginative movies.

Except for the COVID-23 pandemic aspect of the movie, there’s absolutely nothing unique about “Songbird,” which is a lot like many other badly made post-apocalyptic movies that have a weak, nonsensical plot and dumb action scenes. There’s a chase scene where Nico gets trapped in a building with Emmett and some of Emmett’s armed goons. And out of nowhere, Nico gets help from a gun-toting vigilante named Boomer (played by Paul Sloan), who randomly shows up in the scene and then is never seen in the movie again.

Viewers will also have sit through lots of inane dialogue, such as during another scene when Emmett has cornered some people he wants to capture. He taunts them by saying, “Roses are red. Violets are blue. You think you can hide? I’ll find you!”

One of the producers of “Songbird” is Michael Bay, who’s best known as the chief filmmaker for the “Transformers” movie franchise and the first two “Bad Boys” movies. Even though those movies had mediocre-to-bad screenplays, at least those films had high-octane action to keep people interested and wanting more. “Songbird” doesn’t even have memorable action scenes, unless you think it’s an improvement that at one point in the story, Nico ditches his bicycle and replaces it with a stolen motorcycle.

It all leads up to an ending that’s so terrible that it will make people either laugh or get angry, depending on how much it might bother people that their time was wasted by watching this garbage. And why is this movie called “Songbird,” when the only singer in the movie is a supporting character, not a leading character? Just like this entire ludicrous movie, it doesn’t make sense and it’s too lazy to try to give any logical explanations.

STX released “Songbird” on VOD on December 11, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Lost Transmissions’

April 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

Juno Temple and Simon Pegg in "Lost Transmissions"
Juno Temple and Simon Pegg in “Lost Transmissions” (Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens)

“Lost Transmissions”

Directed by Katharine O’Brien

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2019.

It’s not easy to do a romantic drama about two people with mental-health issues. The story has to handle the issues in a respectful and believable manner in order not to be too offensive. But the romance in the story has to be appealing too—and that’s where “Lost Transmissions” falls short. Unfortunately, the two lead actors in the movie—Juno Temple and Simon Pegg—are frustratingly mismatched in portraying a couple who have a tumultuous relationship while they navigate their careers in the Los Angeles music industry. Temple and Pegg are very talented in other movies, but watching them trying to create chemistry together that doesn’t exist in “Lost Transmissions” is almost painful to watch.

When we first meet aspiring singer/songwriter Hannah (played by Temple) and music producer Theo Ross (played by Pegg), it’s at a house party where he’s the jolly center of attention, playing the piano, and she’s a little bit on the shy side. Theo is able to bring Hannah out of her shell a little bit by encouraging her to sing while he plays. They exchange phone numbers, and the next day, Theo calls her and invites Hannah over to his home studio, where she’s very impressed by his unique collection of musical instruments.

During their date, Hannah confides in Theo and tells him that she’s on anti-depressants, and she once tried to commit suicide by driving into a tree. Most people don’t share this kind of information on a first date, so it’s the first sign that Hannah is one of those people who’s addicted to personal chaos. Hannah says, “Sometimes I feel stuck in glue, and I feel like I might never move again.” Theo has a sympathetic ear, and he hints that he also has a troubled past, but he doesn’t go into too many details.

Theo offers to help Hannah with her music career, so he puts her in touch with a music executive named Darron (played by Robert Schwartzman), who hires Hannah to write songs for a young pop star named Dana Lee (played in a hilarious cameo by Alexandra Daddario). Dana is a social-media-conscious nymphette with multicolored hair (think Ariana Grande meets Billie Eilish at Coachella) who has more natural chemistry with Hannah than Theo does. Hannah and Dana’s budding friendship, which is so entertaining to watch, unfortunately has very little screen time in this movie. It makes you wish that a movie was made about Hannah and Dana instead of Hannah and Theo.

British actress Temple has made a career out of playing pouty, American women who find it difficult to be happy, so she’s definitely in her comfort zone here as an actress. The problem is that she’s paired with the wrong actor—and it’s not just because Pegg is known for playing mostly comedic characters. Together, Pegg  and Temple are just not convincing as a couple in love. At times, watching this movie feels like watching awkward rehearsals of a play.

Theo and Hannah continue to date, and they think that they’re in love, even though it’s obvious that they’re wrong for each other. It turns out that Theo has even darker problems than Hannah’s depression issues. On the surface, he seems to have it all together—he’s a respected musician who makes a comfortable living as a producer of indie rock acts. But in reality, Theo is actually schizophrenic—and it doesn’t help that around the time that he’s met Hannah, he’s stopped taking his medication. Theo’s mental illness is also exacerbated because he’s had a long history of taking psychedelic drugs such as LSD or mushrooms—a habit that he goes back to during his relationship with Hannah.

When he’s off his medication, there’s nothing to like about Theo. He has angry outbursts, he’s selfish, he’s unreliable, and (this is where the title of the movie comes into play) when he plays static very loud on the radio, he thinks he can hear messages in the transmissions. It’s clear that Theo is headed for a major nervous breakdown, but Hannah—like so many of the type of co-dependent women who go on TV shows like “Dr. Phil” to talk about their toxic relationships—thinks she can “fix” Theo, or at least help nurse him back to health. According to “Lost Transmissions” writer/director Katharine O’Brien, the movie is inspired by real-life experiences that she went through with a male friend who was schizophrenic. Let’s hope that she handled it better than Hannah does in this movie.

When Theo’s mental deterioration leads him to be evicted from his home, none of his longtime, close friends want to take him in, because they say that they’re too busy with other commitments. (Red flags right there.) Hannah, who hasn’t been dating Theo for very long, ignores these warning signs and agrees to let Theo move in with her instead of immediately getting him professional help. Making that kind of bad decision in the name of love might be understandable if Theo treated Hannah better, but the sweet-natured Theo that Hannah met at the party is long gone.

Hannah doesn’t deserve much sympathy here because she makes excuses for Theo’s horrific behavior. There’s a scene in the movie that is an example of this destructive enabling: Theo, Hannah and one of Theo’s pregnant friends are passengers in a car when Theo, in a fit of rage, lunges at the driver and tries to get the driver to run off the road, which could have caused a serious accident. Eventually, the driver takes control of the car, and they pull over on the side of the road. The pregnant woman is understandably furious, and tells Theo that he’s “dangerous.” Hannah protests and says that Theo is just “scared.”

When Theo’s behavior gets worse, and Hannah finally decides that he needs to be in a professional facility, Theo inevitably ends up in a psych ward. But Hannah (who’s obviously not qualified to give medical advice to Theo) continues to be part of the problem when she tells Theo that he can “outsmart” his schizophrenia. Then the movie veers into a subplot where Hannah tries to get Theo to go back to his native London and make amends with his estranged father. At this point in the story, you’ve stopped caring about this badly mismatched couple, and you can’t wait for the movie to be over so that you don’t have to ever see them again. If the person who inspired the Theo character had this kind of relationship in real life, let’s hope that they’ve broken up and stayed away from each other, for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

UPDATE: Gravitas Ventures will release “Lost Transmissions” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on March 13, 2020. 

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX