Review: ‘The Bikeriders,’ starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Mike Faist and Norman Reedus

June 18, 2024

by Carla Hay

Boyd Holbrook, Austin Butler and Tom Hardy in “The Bikeriders” (Photo by Mike Faist/Focus Features)

“The Bikeriders”

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the Chicago area, from 1963 to 1973, the dramatic film “The Bikeriders” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman struggles to keep her marriage intact as her husband gets more involved in a motorycle gang called the Vandals. 

Culture Audience: “The Bikeriders” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and history-based stories about motorcycle gangs.

Mike Faist and Jodie Comer in “The Bikeriders” (Photo by Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features)

“The Bikeriders” could have been a typical macho movie about a gang, starring actors who are much better-looking than the average gang member. This gritty drama has a lot of predictability, but it avoids some clichés by having a female narrator for an otherwise very masculine film about a violent gang. Jodie Comer gives a standout performance in the role of the movie’s narrator/chief protagonist, who tells the story of this dangerous and dysfunctional American gang from her perspective. “The Bikeriders” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, “The Bikeriders” is inspired by photojournalist Danny Lyon’s 1968 non-fiction book “The Bikeriders,” which chronicled Lyon’s four years as a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The movie takes place from 1963 to 1973, with the story told in non-chronological order. Some viewers might be confused or annoyed by this timeline jumping. The gang at the center of the story is the fictional Vandals, which began in Chicago and eventually expanded to other cities throughout the Midwest. (“The Bikeriders” was actually filmed in Cincinnati.)

“The Bikeriders” structures the narrative by having it in the context of former Vandals insider Kathy (played by Comer) telling the story of the gang to a journalist named Danny (played by Mike Faist) during a series of interviews in 1973. The movie then has several flashbacks to Kathy’s life as the girlfriend and then wife of Vandals member Benny Cross (played by Austin Butler), who becomes increasingly unstable and at risk of dying while he’s in the gang. Kathy is the only substantial female role in the movie. All the other women in with speaking roles in “The Bikeriders” get very little screen time and mostly portray friends or acquaintances of Kathy.

Benny is a typical brooding outlaw, who doesn’t talk much about his past. However, Benny is clear about one thing: He has a passion for motorcycle riding, even though he’s had too many motorcycle crashes by any standard. Benny also has an arrest record, for things such as disorderly conduct, driving without a license, and resisting arrest. After he joins the Vandals, Benny will get involved in more serious crimes.

Benny, who has spent much of his life as a loner, finds camaraderie in the Vandals. The leader of the Vandals is a menacing brute named Johnny (played by Tom Hardy), who expects unwavering loyalty to the gang at all costs. And Benny is a very loyal member. The opening scene in the “Bikeriders” shows Benny getting brutally beaten up by two men in a bar just because Benny refuses their demands to take off his Vandals motorcycle jacket.

There’s a scene in “The Bikeriders” were Johnny says he was inspired to create the Vandals motorcycle club after seeing Marlon Brando in “The Wild One,” the 1953 drama in which Brando has the role of Johnny Strabler, the troublemaking leader of a motorcycle gang. It’s no coincidence that Johnny has the same first name as this iconic movie character. Hardy’s performance in “The Bikeriders” is obviously influenced by Brando’s performance in “The Wild One.” Benny and Johnny form a close friendship, in which Johnny becomes a mentor to Benny.

The other core members of the Chicago chapter of the Vandals are practical-minded Brucie (played Damon Herriman), who is Johnny’s right-hand man; easygoing Cal (played by Boyd Holbrook), who’s originally from California; eccentric Zipco (played by Michael Shannon), who was rejected when he volunteered for military duty for the Vietnam War; fidgety Cockroach (played by Emory Cohen), who is a family man; raggedy Funny Sonny (played by Norman Reedus), who asks to join the Vandals; and best friends Corky (played Karl Glusman) and Wahoo (played by Beau Knapp), who are like the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the Vandals. There’s also an ambitious younger gang member, who is just called The Kid (played by Toby Wallace), and he has a pivotal role in the story.

When Kathy tells the story of the Vandals from her perspective, she is at various times sassy, jaded, nostalgic or heartbroken. “The Bikeriders” follows her journey from being relatively straight-laced and naïve about gang life to becoming so involved in gang life, it becomes very difficult for her to leave, out of fear of getting assaulted or killed. Most of the conflicts in her marriage to Benny are about how she wants him to leave the Vandals, but he stubbornly refuses.

The first time Kathy meets Benny, it’s 1963, and he’s playing pool at a bar that is a regular hangout for the Vandals. Kathy and Benny lock eyes in the way that people do in a movie that makes it obvious that they’re eventually going to get together. Benny and Kathy exchange the type of banter where they’re intensely attracted to each other but they want to play it cool.

And the next thing you know, Kathy is on the back of Benny’s motorcycle while they ride around town. Kathy says in a voiceover about the first time she rode on a motorcycle with Benny: “I have to admit, it took my breath away.” Benny is portrayed as a scruffy and tough James Dean type, who constantly has to prove to others that he’s more than just a pretty face.

At the time Kathy meets Benny, she already has a live-in boyfriend named David (played by Michael Abbott Jr.), who’s about 10 years older than Kathy. But Kathy’s relationship with David doesn’t stop Benny from pursuing Kathy. After Benny drops Kathy off at her house on the first night they meet (which is the first time an annoyed David sees Benny), Benny decides he’s going come back later and wait across the street for the entire night and part of the next day to see Kathy again.

This stalking would be a red flag for a lot of people, but Kathy is charmed and thinks it shows Benny must really be into her, even if she thinks Benny is a little unhinged and obsessive. These personality traits also apply to how Benny feels about the Vandals. Eventually, there comes a time when Kathy wants to choose between her and the Vandals.

Benny doesn’t have to say a word to David or get in a fight with David to literally drive David away. There’s a scene where David is very unnerved by seeing Benny waiting across the street, soon after Benny met Kathy. David storms into the house, has a brief but angry argument with Kathy, and then announces to Kathy: “We’re done!” David drives off in his truck with his possessions and is never seen in the movie again.

Kathy in 1973 is then seen smirking when she tells journalist Danny about what happened next between her and Benny: “Five weeks later, I married him.” The rest of “The Bikeriders” shows the ups and downs of the marriage of Kathy and Benny as he becomes involved in deadly crimes with the Vandals. The movie shows the expected fight scenes and gang rivalries.

The Vandals open up chapters in other cities (Milwaukee is mentioned the most), but Johnny has difficulty managing so many different chapters as the overall leader of the Vandals. Johnny doesn’t really want to admit he’s losing control of a rapidly expanding gang with various agendas, but other people see flaws in Johnny’s leadership, so there are inevitable power struggles. A few gang members occasionally challenge Johnny to replace him as the leader of the Vandals. Johnny gives these challengers a choice to fight him with their fists or with a knife.

“The Bikeriders” doesn’t have a lot of surprises but can maintain viewer interest because of the talented cast members’ performances. Comer and Hardy (who are both British in real life) have accents in this movie that will get different reactions. Comer’s Midwestern twang sounds very authentic and actually makes her plain-spoken, often-sarcastic storytelling have more resonance. Hardy (who’s doing yet another role as a mumbling tough guy) has an American accent that sounds a lot more contrived, although at this point Hardy has mastered the type of character who looks like he could hit someone and hug the same person within a span of seconds.

Butler’s depiction of Benny isn’t outstanding, but it’s not terrible either. Is he convincing as a gang member? The scenes where he’s on a motorcycle or being a “bad boy” lover to Kathy are better than his scenes where he’s in gang-related fights. Benny could have easily been the narrator of “The Bikeriders,” but writer/director Nichols wisely chose to avoid such a predictable perspective. Benny’s obsession with the Vandals is a hint that there’s a huge void in Benny’s life that isn’t fully explained.

It’s perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie: Benny is just too mysterious. He’s not exactly a gang member with a heart of gold, but the movie wants to keep people guessing until the very end: Is Kathy or the Vandals gang the one true love of Benny? The answer comes at the end of “The Bikeriders,” which isn’t a groundbreaking movie about motorcycle gangs but it’s satisfying enough for people who want to see a version of gang life with people who mostly look like Hollywood actors.

Focus Features will release “The Bikeriders” in U.S. cinemas on June 21, 2024. A sneak preview of the movie was shown in U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2024.

Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,’ starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, Karen Allen, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore and Mads Mikkelsen

June 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ethann Isidore, Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm)

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”

Directed by James Mangold

Some language in German and Greek with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1969 (with some flashbacks to the 1940s), in various parts of universe, the action film “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some people of African, Middle Eastern and Latino heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: American hero Indiana Jones fights Nazis, as he tries to regain possession of a powerful time-travel artifact called the Archimedes Dial that has been stolen by his British con-artist goddaughter. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Indiana Jones” franchise fans and Harrison Ford fans, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic action movies that lack original ideas.

Mads Mikkelsen in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” should be renamed “Indiana Jones and the Long-Winded Cash Grab.” It’s an overstuffed pile-on of formulaic action, insipid dialogue and ripoff ideas. It’s an utter failure of originality. And with a total running time of 154 minutes, only the most die-hard Indiana Jones fans will feel like this repetitive film is worth the very long ride that over-relies on Indiana Jones nostalgia instead of doing something truly bold and creative with this franchise.

Directed by James Mangold, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is the fifth movie in the “Indiana Jones” series, which began with 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—still the best movie in the franchise—which was about an American hero battling against treasure-stealing Nazis. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is the first “Indiana Jones” movie that isn’t directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” was co-written by Mangold, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” begins somewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, with a very misguided action sequence that lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes. The sequence shows a middle-aged Indiana “Indy” Jones (played by Harrison Ford, with de-aging computer imagery in these scenes) fighting off Nazis with his longtime British friend Basil Shaw (played by Toby Jones, also de-aged in this sequence), who is an archaeologist and an Oxford University professor. In this sequence, Indiana does things such as fight Nazis on the roof of a moving train. Basil has been captured by the Nazis. But of course, Indiana is able to rescue Basil.

Indiana and Basil want to get a hold of the Archimedes Dial, an artifact that is believed to have the ability to open time portals. The Nazi contingent is led by Colonel Weber (played by Thomas Kretschmann), who is in charge of stealing valuable art and artifacts from Nazi-occupied countries and sending these treasures to Germany. One of the star subordinates of Colonel Weber is Dr. Jürgen Voller (played by Mads Mikkelsen, also de-aged in the 1940s scenes), who comes across Indiana Jones in the battle over the Archimedes Dial.

While still on top of the moving train, Indiana finds himself at the mercy of Jürgen, who has a gun and demands that Indiana Jones hand over the Archimedes Dial. Indiana abides by this request, and Jürgen escapes by sliding down a nearby pole. The conclusion of this fight immediately looks phony, because if this fight had happened in real life, a ruthless Nazi such as Jürgen would have immediately killed Indiana and Basil after getting the dial. But there would be no “Indiana Jones” sequels if that happened, so expect Indiana Jones to escape death again and again in unrealistic action scenes.

Another glaring reason why this sequence is very misguided is that it will make viewers wonder, “How long is this movie going to show a younger (fake-looking) Indiana Jones instead of the senior citizen that Ford is in real life?” It’s an example of how “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” relies too heavily on nostalgia. This high-energy action sequence will only just remind people of how the earlier “Indiana Jones” movies from the 20th century are better than the “Indiana Jones” movies released in the 21st century.

After this overly long trip down memory lane of how Indiana Jones used to look, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” fast-forwards to the year 1969, when Indiana Jones is a cranky, bitter old man. He’s an archaelogy professor at Hunter College in New York City. He’s on the verge of retiring after teaching at Hunter College for the past 10 years. And he lives alone, because he’s separated from his wife Marion (played by Karen Allen), who met him in the story depicted in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” explains later why Indiana and Marion have separated. (Hint: She left him.)

Someone who shows up unexpectedly in one of Indiana’s class sessions is Helena Shaw (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who is Basil’s daughter. Helena is also Indiana’s goddaughter. She’s looking for the Archimedes Dial, which is believed to have been lost over the French Alps. As shown in the opening sequence, Jürgen thought he had the Archimedes Dial, but somehow Indiana fooled him by giving him only half of the dial. Indiana really kept the other half of the dial. Basil (who is deceased in 1969) lost the other half, so now Helena wants to find both halves.

The rest of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is about this quest, which includes a lot of bickering and backstabbing from the very annoying Helena, who is a con artist. Of course, we all know how this is going to go in the end, since Helena has the story arc of “Can this con artist be trusted? Can this con artist be redeemed?” Another question that comes to mind when watching Helena is: “Can this con artist get any more irritating?”

And once again, the Nazis (this time, neo-Nazis) are on the hunt for the Archimedes Dial too. Jürgen has another identity hiding his Nazi past. He’s now a physicist named Dr. Lehrer Schmidt, who works in the United States’ outer-space program. Jürgen/Lerer has a generic right-hand man named Klaber (played by Boyd Holbrook), who zips around cities on motorbikes as if he thinks he’s a Nazi version of James Dean. Jürgen/Lerer also has a henchman named Hauke (played by Olivier Richters), who also does a lot of the dirty work.

Along the way, Indiana Jones encounters a CIA operative named Agent Mason (played by Shaunette Renée Wilson), who is undercover as a Black Power militant. It’s just a sorry excuse for the movie to have Agent Mason say the word “cracker” as a racist term used to describe a white person. It takes entirely too long for Agent Mason to figure out that Klaber is a Nazi who is working undercover as U.S. law enforcement. This isn’t spoiler information, since the trailer for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” clearly shows that Klaber is one of the villains.

A former excavator named Sallah (played by John Rhys-Davies), an old friend from Indiana Jones’ past, used to live in Cairo but is now a taxi driver in New York City. (And you know what that means when the movie has inevitable chase/action scenes in New York City.) Sallah shows up in the movie to check off more nostalgia boxes for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” Antonio Banderas has a cameo as Renaldo, a sailor/fisherman who gives advice to Indiana on how to find an expert diver in Greece. It’s a role that really just celebrity stunt casting.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” recycles the formula of giving Indiana Jones an adolescent male sidekick, who is a smart alecky motormouth. Qe Huy Quan had that role in 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the second movie in the series. Shia LaBeouf had that role in 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the fourth movie in the series. And in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” Ethann Isidore has that role, as Teddy, a bratty teenager who doesn’t trust Indiana at first because he’s a friend of Helena’s. No one seems to question how creepy it is for Helena to be hanging out with a kid this young when he’s not related to her.

The acting performances in the movie are nothing special. Everyone seems to be playing their roles as if they’re video game characters. Expect to see the usual “race against time” action sequences, people yelling at each other, and narrow escapes from death that don’t look realistic at all. One of the more ridiculous action sequences is Indiana riding a horse in a New York City subway station as if he’s in the Kentucky Derby.

Sure, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is supposed to be an escapism adventure movie. And sure, people can enjoy seeing Ford returning to a character who is way past his prime. And sure, the globetrotting scenes are eye-catching. (The movie was filmed in Morocco, Sicily and the United Kingdom.) But “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is an example of how computer technology cannot replace a good story. Compare “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” to understand why “better filmmaking technology” doesn’t always equal “better filmmaking.”

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” in U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2023.

Review: ‘Vengeance’ (2022), starring B.J. Novak, Boyd Holbrook, Issa Rae and Ashton Kutcher

January 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ashton Kutcher and B.J. Novak in “Vengeance” (Photo by Patti Perret/Focus Features)

“Vengeance” (2022)

Directed by B.J. Novak

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and briefly in New York City, the comedy/drama film “Vengeance” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A New York City podcaster is persuaded to go to rural Texas to investigate the drug-overdose death of a woman whom he briefly dated. 

Culture Audience: “Vengeance” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/filmmaker B.J. Novak and movies about crime investigations that take dark comedic jabs at society.

B.J. Novak asnd Boyd Holbrook in “Vengeance” (Photo by Patti Perret/Focus Features)

The comedy/drama “Vengeance” puts a satirical spin on a familiar movie concept of a stranger coming to an area to investigate a possible crime, with the stranger feeling like a “fish out of water.” The stranger then usually lets judgment get clouded by internal prejudices, as well as the prejudices of people around the stranger. “Vengeance” makes some of its cultural stereotypes too broad and heavy-handed, and the movie’s ending could have been better. Overall, the story can hold viewers’ interest, as long as there’s tolerance for what the movie is saying about personal biases.

B.J. Novak, a former co-star and writer of the U.S. comedy TV series “The Office,” makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Vengeance,” a movie that he also wrote. “Vengeance” starts out very strong with biting comedy. And then, it meanders back and forth between an intriguing investigation and clumsily handled culture shock, with jokes that are hit and miss. The ending of “Vengeance” is meant to be a surprise twist, but observant viewers can see some clues leading up this ending and can figure out why Novak chose to end the movie this way.

In “Vengeance” (which had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival), Novak portrays Ben Manalowitz, a politically liberal podcaster who lives and works in New York City. Ben, who is also a writer for The New Yorker, is every cliché (for better or worse) of what many people think about a college-educated, New York City media person. Depending on someone’s perspective, Ben is either well-versed and knowledgeable about many topics, or he’s a a smug intellectual snob.

The movie opens with a hilarious scene of Ben and musician John Mayer (portraying himself) having a conversation at a rooftop party in New York City. The conversation topic for these two bachelors is dating. John says, “I don’t ever want to go past knowing what someone’s parents do for a living. If I know what someone has done for a living, I’ve hung too long.”

Ben replies in agreement: “Or siblings. Why does anyone care about your siblings, especially so early [of meeting a potential partner]? Has that ever changed whether you want to date somebody?” John says, “People say guys like us are afraid of commitment. No, we’re afraid of commitment to something we can’t get out of.”

Ben adds, “There’s no such thing as commitment. Fear of commitment is fear of regret.” John replies, “100%. Or fear of intimacy. Please. I’m intimate with everybody.” If only “Vengeance” had more of this type of banter in the movie, it would have been a lot funnier. Viewers won’t get to see much of Ben’s life in New York City, because he will soon be plunged into an unexpected investigation in rural Texas.

It just so happens that Ben wants to do a new investigative series for his podcast, so he pitches an idea to his podcast producer Eloise (played by Issa Rae), who is smart and sarcastic. Ben says that he wants to do a series about why the United States is so divided. However, as he tells Eloise his theory: “America isn’t divided by space. America is divided by time.”

Eloise replies, “Not every white guy in New York needs to have a podcast. You got the verified checkmark. You got The New Yorker position.” Ben says, “I want something more. I don’t just want to be writer. I want to be a voice. As dorky as it sounds, I care about America.”

At home one night, Ben is asleep when he is woken up by the sound of his phone ringing. The person on the other line is sobbing, and he identifies himself as Ty Shaw (played by Boyd Holbrook), who is a complete stranger to Ben. Ty lives in a rural part of western Texas, about a five-hour drive away from the city of Abilene. It’s a very politically conservative part of Texas that has almost the opposite of the environment and lifestyle that Ben has in New York City.

At first, Ben doesn’t know the reason for Ty’s call, until Ty tells Ben that Ty is the older brother of Abilene “Abby” Shaw (played by Lio Tipton, in flashbacks), who recently died of an opioid overdose at a party in a Texas oil field. Ben and Abby had a fling some years ago that he almost forgot about until Ty’s phone call.

Ty is under the impression, based on the way Abby talked about Ben, that Ben and Abby were in a serious, long-distance relationship. The reality is that Ben and Abby haven’t seen or been in contact with each other for years. Ben tries to tell Ty this information, but Ty is so grief-stricken and insistent that Ben was the love of Abby’s life, Ben goes along with it.

It isn’t long before Ty has convinced Ben to go to Texas for Abby’s funeral, where Ben is asked to give a eulogy about Abby. At the funeral, Ben finds out that Abby was an aspiring singer, so he awkwardly says in his speech: “I know she loved music. She will always be a song in our hearts.”

Ty soon tells Ben that he believes that Abby’s overdose death was murder. Ty also insists that he and Ben are going to track down whoever allegedly murdered Abby. Ty says to Ben: “You and me, we’re the men in her lives. And they fucked with the wrong two guys.”

Ben tells Ty: “I don’t avenge deaths. I don’t live in a Liam Neeson movie.” Ty responds, “You kind of look like a guy in a Liam Neeson movie.” Ty names “Schindler’s List” as “my least-favorite Liam Neeson movie. Huge downer.” Ty adds, “Stay down here and avenge Abby’s death with me.”

Ben doesn’t take Ty’s murder theory seriously, but Ben sees this investigation as the perfect idea for his next podcast series. He tells Eloise about it and says, “This isn’t a story about vengeance. It’s a story about the need for vengeance, the meaning of vengeance.” Eloise asks, “Dead white girl?” Ben replies, “The holy grail of podcasts.”

And so, Ben ends up getting to know Ty and the rest of the loud and boisterous Shaw family. They include Ty’s three other siblings: 24-year-old sister Paris (played by Isabella Amara), who’s an aspiring filmmaker; 17-year-old sister Kansas City (played by Dove Cameron), who’s an aspiring “celebrity”; and 9-year-old El Stupido (played by Eli Abrams Bickel), who isn’t called by any other name in the movie.

The siblings’ mother is feisty Sharon Shaw (played by J. Smith-Cameron) and grandmother Carole Shaw (played by Louanne Stephens), who is very racist against people of Mexican heritage. One of the movie’s jokes about Carole is that she doesn’t know that Texas lost the battle of Alamo. Unfortunately, all of the Shaw family characters except for Ty are very underdeveloped and are nothing but hollow stereotypes.

Ben and Ty are told that Mexican drug dealers probably killed Abby. During this investigation, Ben meets and interviews several local people who might have information on what happened to Abby on the night that she died. These locals include a smarmy music producer named Quentin Sellers (played by Ashton Kutcher), who was working with Abby on some music recordings; a drug dealer named Sancholo (played by Zach Villa); and County Sheriff Jimenez (played by Rio Alexander), who is every cliché of an unsophisticated cop.

“Vengeance” has some subtle and not-so-subtle comedy poking fun at stereotypes of “city slickers” and “country hicks.” Ben is doing a podcast series about vengeance, but it begins to dawn on him that he is experiencing his other podcast series idea about America being a divided country. Not surprisingly, Ben gets some resistance to his investigation because many of the locals think that Ben is an “outsider” who can’t be trusted. The cast members give competent performances, although enjoyment of “Vengeance” will be affected by how much a viewer thinks Kutcher is convincing or not convincing in portraying a Texan.

All of the characters in “Vengeance” are portrayed as alternately amusing or annoying, which seems to be the movie’s point. “Vengeance” doesn’t point fingers at any particular lifestyle or political belief as better than the rest. The movie shows there’s something irritating and ultimately toxic about any mindset that wants to lump people of different cultures into one degrading stereotype. And sometimes, when people get consumed by an “us versus them” mentality, they can end up with the worst traits of the people they despise.

Focus Features released “Vengeance” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 16, 2022, and on Blu-ray and DVD on September 20, 2022. Peacock premiered “Vengeance” on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘The Cursed’ (2022), starring Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly and Alistair Petrie

April 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Boyd Holbrook and Kelly Reilly in “The Cursed” (Photo courtesy of LD Entertainment)

“The Cursed” (2022)

Directed by Sean Ellis

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed English village in the late 1882, and briefly in France in 1917, the horror movie “The Cursed” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A small village in England is plagued by disappearances and murders that are being blamed on a possible werewolf. 

Culture Audience: “The Cursed” will appeal primarily to people interested in werewolf horror stories that have elements of intrigue and visual terror that are better than most horror films.

Amelia Crouch and Kelly Reilly in “The Cursed” (Photo courtesy of LD Entertainment)

“The Cursed” makes some unique and effective visual departures from a typical werewolf horror movie. The movie’s pace is sometimes sluggish, but the terror scenes more than make up for the film’s minor flaws. It’s not a movie that’s going to be considered the best horror film of the year, but “The Cursed” is very memorable and has the benefit of talented cast members who make their characters entirely believable.

Written and directed by Sean Ellis, “The Cursed” was originally titled “Eight for Silver” when it premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Although “The Cursed” is a very generic title that’s the name of several other horror movies, it’s actually a more accurate description of this movie’s plot than “Eight for Silver.” “The Cursed” has some gruesome violence that isn’t overly excessive. One of the best aspects of the movie is in how it builds suspense.

“The Cursed” opens with a scene taking place in France’s the Somme in 1917, during World War I. (History buffs might nitpick because World War I’s famous Battle of the Somme actually took place in 1916.) Soldiers wearing gas masks are in the battlefield trenches when they come under attack. Some of the wounded soldiers are then taken to a very chaotic medical tent. One of those soldiers, whose identity is revealed at the end of the film, undergoes emergency surgery, where a doctor extracts a large silver bullet from this soldier.

The movie than jumps to a scene taking place in an unknown country, where a middle-aged woman named Charlotte Laurent (played by Annabel Mullion) begins to tell a story about a life-changing experience that she had 35 years ago, in 1882, when she was about 14 or 15 years old. Most of “The Cursed” consists of Charlotte’s flashback memories to this point in time in her life.

The teenage Charlotte (played by Amelia Crouch) lives with her family in a very isolated small village, which does not have a name in the movie. And as is typical for a horror movie, this village is near a heavily wooded area. The village is presumably in England, since the residents have English accents, but there are a lot of people with French names in the village too. (“The Cursed” was actually filmed in France.)

Charlotte comes from a wealthy family whose patriarch, Seamus Laurent (played by Alistair Petrie), is a tyrant who’s used to getting what he wants. Seamus and his dutiful wife Isabelle Laurent (played by Kelly Reilly) are the parents of Charlotte and Edward (Max Mackintosh), who’s about 11 or 12 years old when this story takes place. They all live in a mansion that will soon become hub of supernatural and terrifying activities.

Seamus is not only a bully, but he’s also greedy and racist. In an early scene in the movie, he and several other men are having dinner at his home and conspire to take land away from the gypsies who are living in an outdoor camp on this property. Meanwhile, an unnamed gypsy woman (played by Pascale Becouze), who appears to be the gypsies’ spiritual leader, tells her tribe that a storm is coming. She says of an unnamed entity: “We have protected it for generations. It has protected us for generations.” Then she begins chanting.

It isn’t long before Seamus and his group of marauders invade the gypsy camp on horseback and armed with guns. A massacre occurs that will be very hard for sensitive viewers to watch. The gypsies who aren’t shot to death are captured, tortured, and murdered in other ways.

The gypsy leader has an unnamed male companion (played by Jicey Carina), who is a blacksmith. They both suffer the cruel fate of being tortured before dying. He is strung up like a scarecrow and hanged to death. She is thrown into a shallow grave and buried alive.

Before she is buried alive in this grave, Seamus and his men steal from her a denture mold of a human mouth that has silver teeth, because they want the silver. Of course, the gypsy woman is no ordinary spiritual leader. She is somehow connected to the supernatural, and she places a curse on the murderers who have massacred her tribe. And you know what that means in a horror movie.

Meanwhile, a pathologist named John McBride (played by Boyd Holbrook) has arrived in the village to investigate what appears to be a series of animal attacks. The villagers are starting to suspect that this is no ordinary animal but something supernatural and evil. John is a scientist whose beliefs about the supernatural evolve, based on what he experiences during his stay in this village. John is also a widower who has his own tragic story that’s eventually revealed.

Not long after this murder spree, Edward starts having nightmares of seeing the gypsy leader coming to attack him in the same field where she died. Edward has no idea about the terrible crimes his father Seamus has committed, so Edward is frightened and confused by what he’s seeing in his nightmares. The wives and children of the massacre killers also have no knowledge that these husbands and fathers have committed these heinous crimes.

One of these children is Timmy Adam (played by Tommy Rodger), who is about 11 or 12 years old. Timmy is the son of John Adam (played by Sean Mahon), one of the men involved in the gypsy massacre. One day, Timmy and Edward are outside playing when Timmy finds the denture mold with the silver teeth. Timmy then viciously bites Edward on the neck, while Charlotte (who is nearby and witnesses this attack) runs away to get help.

Edward is wounded, but it’s not fatal. The doctor treating Edward tells the Laurent family that the bite wound looks like Edward was attacked by a wild animal. The wound is infected, but the doctor gives some medicine to treat it. Not long after this bite attack, while Edward is bedridden during his recovery, Charlotte starts seeing strange things in Edward’s room at night, such as slimy creatures coming out of Edward while he’s in bed.

And then, Edward mysteriously disappears from the home without any of his family members seeing him leave. His family finds out that he’s missing the next morning, when they see that he’s nowhere in the house. Timmy has no memory of biting Edward, and he is among the villagers who participate in the frantic search for Edward. Edward’s disappearance leads to more people vanishing or being murdered in the village. And the murders seem to be coming from a wolf-like animal.

The rest of “The Cursed” shows the mystery behind what’s happening in this plagued village. The werewolf creature is not a typical hairy monster with fangs. The movie does some clever re-imagining of werewolf lore, in terms of how this creature looks and how it attacks. Fabien Houssaye, Carl Laforêt and Miko Abouaf are the three actors who portray this werewolf creature in “The Cursed.”

One of the best things about “The Cursed” is that it looks convincing as a story that takes place in the years that it takes place, due in large part to the authentic-looking production design and costume design. The most terrifying scenes in the movie are absolutely gripping. And although there are some predictable jump scares, not everything in the movie is formulaic.

“The Cursed” writer/director Ellis is also the movie’s cinematographer. He infuses the movie with a lot of brown and gray tones that make the movie look foreboding instead of drab. Likewise, the camera angles keep audiences feeling a certain tension that anything can happen, even when the movie’s pacing tends to slow down.

Holbrook and Reilly have the standout roles as John and Isabelle, because they are the adults in the story with the best moral compass. All of the cast members do well in their performances, but no one is going to be nominated for any major awards for this movie, whose dialogue can be a bit forgettable. “The Cursed” is a solid addition to werewolf movies that should satisfy most horror fans who like a horror film to have an intriguing mystery along with the frightening scenes.

LD Entertainment released “The Cursed” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on March 15, 2022. “The Cursed” is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on May 10, 2022.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Two/One’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

Boyd Holbrook in “Two/One”


Directed by Juan Cabral

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

Two strangers share an unknown connection until they have a chance meeting that reveals how they are linked. It’s not a new concept for a movie, but the drama “Two/One” attempts to bring a unique twist to the concept: Someone’s life is another person’s dream. Unfortunately, this first feature film from writer/director Juan Cabral has a premise that is so deeply flawed that it goes beyond a logical suspension of belief that you sometimes have to have for a fictional story.

The first three-quarters of the movie alternate between two men who don’t know each other: Kaden (played by Boyd Holbrook) is a professional ski jumper who lives in Canada. Khai (played by Song Yang) is a business executive who lives in China. Both men are so consumed by their work that their love lives have taken a back seat to their careers. Kaden’s family has also become fractured, as his adulterous father Alfred (played by Beau Bridges) has announced that he’s left his longtime wife, Kaden’s mother Olina (played by Marilyn Norry), because he’s become tired of the marriage. Even though Kaden’s father is selfish and insensitive, Kaden still seeks his father’s approval, which is an issue that Khai has with his own father.

Both Khai and Kaden are emotionally closed off, but love unexpectedly enters their lives. With Kaden, he has a chance encounter with a long-lost love named Martha (played by Dominique McElligott), who is now married and has a child with another man. Khai’s love interest is Jia (played by Zhu Zhu), a young woman he first saw in nude videos posted on the Internet, and she unexpectedly becomes his co-worker at the office. Khai and Jia have a whirlwind romance, and not long after they begin dating, she moves into his apartment. But their relationship hits a major speed bump when Khai finds out that Jia is a victim of revenge porn, and he has difficulty coping with it. It’s easy to see that Khai and Kaden have control issues when it comes to their romantic partners, whom they view somewhat as damsels in distress who need rescuing.

People watching this film who don’t know that it’s supposed to reveal the connection between Kaden and Khai will be left wondering during most of the movie, “Where exactly is this going?” When the big reveal happens, people in the movie have suffered serious injuries because of the connection that Kaden and Khai have. “Two/One” is so ambitious in its concept that it overlooks the major plot holes that ensue when the two characters finally meet. If the idea had been written more skillfully, then the issue of narcolepsy and other sleep disorders would have had more of a wide-reaching effect on the characters in the movie. Because “Two/One” takes such a slow-paced, long-winded approach to get to the big reveal, it wouldn’t be surprising if some people watching this movie will fall asleep out of sheer boredom.

UPDATE: Gravitas Ventures will release “2/1” (previously spelled “Two/One”) in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 7, 2020.

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