Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the comedy/drama film “Pretty Problems” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A middle-class married couple looking to spice up ther lives are invited to a party retreat at a vineyard by a flaky rich woman, who introduces the couple to the equally flaky people in her inner circle, including her husband and another couple of shallow partiers.
Culture Audience: “Pretty Problems” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching repetitive movies about people who get drunk at upscale retreats.
A satire such as “Pretty Problems” could have been a clever parody of shallow and materialistic people, but this tiresome movie ends up being as vapid and annoying as the characters it is trying to mock. Watching this movie is like being stuck somewhere for 103 minutes and watching nothing but people acting stupidly drunk and thinking that they’re hilarious. It’s an endurance test, because there’s almost nothing in this movie that is truly unique, while the characters just aren’t interesting. The one-note jokes quickly run out of steam very early in the film. “Pretty Problems” had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
Directed by Kestrin Pantera and written by Michael Tennant, “Pretty Problems” strains to keep the comedy momentum that it seemed to have started in the film’s first 15 minutes. In the beginning of the movie, viewers see that married couple Lindsay Simpson (played by Britt Rentschler) and Jack Brown (played by Tennant) are stuck in a rut in their relationship. They aren’t breaking up, but they’ve become a little bored with each other. The movie begins with a sex scene of Lindsay and Jack in bed together and being “out of sync” and not connecting the way in the way they did when they were happier in their relationship. And then, Lindsay and Jack are shown masturbating separately in the shower.
Lindsay works as a sales clerk at a trendy women’s clothing boutique. Jack works as a probation officer. They don’t have children. One day, when Lindsay is at work, a wealthy homemaker named Catherine “Cat” Flax (played by J.J. Nolan) is in the store and strikes up a friendly conversation with Lindsay. The next thing Lindsay knows, Cat has convinced Lindsay to go on her lunch break with Cat. In the back patio, Lindsay and Cat have some wine (one of the many “Pretty Problems” scenes where the characters are drinking alcohol), and they talk about their lives.
Cat is married to a self-made billionaire businessman. They have twin children, who are never seen in the movie. Cat tells Lindsay that Lindsay looks too smart to be a retail sales clerk. Lindsay admits that her dream is to have her own fashion business, with either her own brand of designer clothing or a high-end retail store. Even though they’ve just met, Cat offers to invest in Lindsay’s dream. And that’s how Lindsay finds out that Cat is rich.
But is Cat’s generous offer for real, or is it just drunken rambling from a bored woman with a lot of money? When Cat goes back into the store, she spends a long time lingering and being somewhat of distraction to the store employees. Finally, Lindsay’s supervisor Georgia tells Lindsay: “If your friend isn’t going to buy anything, I’m going to ask you to leave.” Cat then proceeds to buy a massive number of clothing in the store, so that Lindsay can get the credit for selling the merchandise.
When Lindsay is at home with Jack, she enthusiastically tells him about Cat and how they became “fast friends,” as well as the large purchase that Cat made to help Lindsay look like a great salesperson. Lindsay says to Jack: “I sold more in that boutique in six minutes than I sold in six months.” Lindsay also tells Jack that Cat has invited them to an adults-only party retreat at a vineyard in Sonoma, where Cat and her husband have one of their homes.
Jack is skeptical because he thinks that he and Lindsay won’t fit in at this retreat. He’s not just skeptical. He’s also paranoid that they might be targeted to join a weird sex cult. Lindsay is excited and intrigued and says she wants to go to this retreat, with or without Jack. After much whining and hesitation, Jack agrees to go with Lindsay to the retreat. They take their car for the road trip to the vineyard.
When they get to the vineyard, Cat is drunk (as usual) and introduces Jack and Lindsay to her husband Matt Flax (played by Graham Outerbridge), who proceeds to tell Jack that Matt recently bought Jack’s favorite beer distributor. Jack and Lindsay are then introduced to the other couple who are part of this group retreat. Carrie (played by Charlotte Ubben) is a ditzy model/actress, who is the latest fling for Kerry (played by Alex Klein), who is living of off his family’s trust fund. Kerry’s grandfather invented Tater Tots. One of the first things that Carrie and Kerry do after they meet Lindsay and Jack is brag about spending $65,000 on champagne and cocaine.
The rest of “Pretty Problems” is just a series of scenes showing these six partiers getting intoxicated, having mindless conversations (where there’s more boasting and flaunting of wealth and possessions), and making fools out of themselves in various ways. There are some very unoriginal scenes where the group has a “murder mystery game” and then do some karaoke. Lindsay is eager to fit in with this group, but Matt starts out as very uptight and acting like he’s above all the drunken antics. And then, someone puts Ecstasy in Matt’s drink without his knowledge or consent, and he starts acting like an idiot too.
Meanwhile, the employees of Cat and Max have to deal with serving these partiers and staying calm and rational as things get more chaotic. Dan (played by Clayton Froning), who works for the Flax couple as a majordomo, is a former Sea World trainer. He also happens to know Lindsay from when they were in high school together, and he had the name Big Dick Dan. It’s so predictable what kind of history Lindsay has with Dan and what Matt’s reaction will be when he finds out.
Other employees include party planner Becca (played by Katarina Hughes) who is a Rhodes Scholar playwright; master sommelier Georges (played Tom Detrinis); and shaman Gigi (played by Vanessa Chester), who leads a meditation session like a teacher has to lead a classroom of unruly kids. There is nothing special about any of the performances in “Pretty Problems.” In fact, some of the cast members over-act and therefore ruin what could have been hilarious satire.
It doesn’t take long for “Pretty Problems” to run out of ideas after making its point over and over that rich jerks who are drunk or high on drugs are still jerks, but the drinking and drugging just amplify their awful personalities. “Pretty Problems” might have been better off it were filmed like a mockumentary short film, but it still wouldn’t erase the movie’s unremarkable acting and dull dialogue. If people want to see a witty and dark satire of wealthy people behaving badly in gorgeous settings, then viewers are better off watching HBO’s “The White Lotus.”
IFC Films released “Pretty Problems” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 7, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in California (and briefly in Ohio), the comedy/drama film “Moving On” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After their former best friend from college passes away, two elderly women decide to get deadly revenge on the friend’s widower for a despicable act that he committed 46 years ago.
Culture Audience: “Moving On” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s stars and fairy-tale-like movies about acting on revenge fantasies.
Neither terrible nor great, “Moving On” will mainly appeal to viewers who like seeing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin work together on screen. This comedy/drama with a deadly revenge plot is really a harmless story about appreciating true friendships. It’s recommended only for people who want something to do to pass the time and aren’t expecting anything outstanding from a movie that has a talented cast and director who’ve made better films. “Moving On” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz, “Moving On” begins with a senior citizen named Claire (played by Fonda) leaving her home state of Ohio for a trip to California, to attend the funeral of a longtime friend named Joyce. Claire, Joyce and a woman named Evelyn (played by Tomlin) were the best of friends in college. Claire isn’t going to the funeral just to grieve. She wants to go to California to kill Joyce’s husband Howard (played by Malcolm McDowell), who has no idea that he’s the target of a murder plot.
Claire has been married and divorced twice. Her most recent divorce was 15 years ago. She has an adult daughter (from her second marriage) and two teenage grandchildren. Claire currently lives alone and has a beloved pet Corgi named Daschel. Evelyn is the only person (other than Claire) who knows why Claire would want to kill Howard.
Evelyn is a retired professional cellist who used to be part of a classical orchestra that traveled around the world. She has arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis, which obviously ended her career. Evelyn lives in a retirement building in California, not far from where Joyce and Howard live. Evelyn, who has been living openly as a lesbian for years, is grieving over the death of her wife Annette, who was also a classical musician. Annette and Evelyn met in 2006, and they were married in 2009, shortly before Annette died.
At the funeral, Claire is warmly greeted by Joyce’s adult daughter Allie (played by Sarah Burns), who lives in Pennsylvania. Also with Allie are her two daughters Devin (played by Haley Wolff) and Joycie (played by Cosette Abinante), who are about 8 to 10 years old. Allie is very kind and patient with her father Howard, who can be rude and abrupt with people. At the funeral, Claire tells Howard that she’s going to kill him, but he thinks she’s joking.
Howard gives an effusive eulogy about Joyce at her wake, but Evelyn interrupts and makes a bombshell announcement: During and after college, Evelyn and Joyce were secret lovers and were very much in love with each other. Their relationship ended though, and Joyce went on to marry Howard. Allie and Howard are shocked, in denial, and insulted that Evelyn would make this announcement during the wake. Eventually, Evelyn is asked to leave, and Claire leaves around the same time.
In the car, Claire tells Evelyn that she’s not surprised that Evelyn and Joyce were lovers because Claire always suspected it. Claire and Evelyn catch up with what’s been going on in their lives, because they haven’t seen each other in years. In this private conversation, Claire tells Evelyn that she’s going to murder Howard when she gets the chance to do so. Evelyn knows why Claire wants to kill Howard and thinks it’s bad idea, but then agrees to help Claire.
Claire hasn’t figured out how she’s going to murder Howard. And so, the movie has some frivolous and not-very-funny scenes of them trying to plan this murder. Claire and Evelyn go to a gun shop so that Claire can buy a gun. But then, they find out that Claire can’t legally buy a gun in California, because she’s not a resident of California. Claire and Evelynn also discuss other methods of murder, such as poisoning.
Someone who was at Joyce’s wake was Claire’s first ex-husband Ralph (played by Richard Roundtree), who lives in California, and who is happy to see Claire after years of not being in contact with her. Howard invited Ralph to the wake, because Ralph knew Joyce when Ralph was married to Claire. Ralph’s second wife Zora died four years ago.
And it isn’t long before Ralph makes it known that he’s interested in seeing Claire again, even though he knows that she lives in Ohio. Before you know it, Ralph has invited Claire over to his house for dinner. Also at the dinner are Ralph’s daughter Joie (played by Amber Chardae Robinson) and Joie’s two sons (played Jeremiah King and Isai Devine), who are about 9 to 11 years old.
“Moving On” sort of wanders and drags out the murder plot in ways that get a little tiresome. Claire and Evelyn fumble and bungle their attempts to decide how to murder Howard. And they find the weapon they are going to use from an unlikely source.
Evelyn has become acquainted with a boy of about 8 to 9 years old named James (played by Marcel Nahapetian), whose grandfather Walt (played by Vachik Mangassarian) is an ailing resident living in the same apartment building as Evelyn. James and his parents (played by Eddie Martinez and Santina Muha) visit Walt on a semi-regular basis. And one day, James mentions to Evelyn that his grandfather Walt has a gun.
James mentions it when he tells Evelyn that James’ father wants to teach James how to use a gun to go hunting. James would rather wear dresses and jewelry, and play “dress up” in mock fashion shows with Evelyn, who encourages James to be himself and pursue these passions. However, it’s obvious (without it being said out loud) that James’ parents wouldn’t approve of James’ fashion interests. Evelyn knows that she and James have to keep these types of activities a secret because of homophobia.
“Moving On” has these moments of kindness and compassion, but there are also some mean-spirited slapstick comedy moments that aren’t uproariously funny, but they’re capably acted by the cast members who are in these scenes. Viewers find out that what Howard did to Claire was so damaging, she kept it a secret from Ralph, and it ended up ruining Claire and Ralph’s marriage. Even before the secret is fully revealed, it’s easy to figure out what the secret is, because the clues are so obvious.
“Moving On” makes Howard into a caricature-like villain, which is kind of a mistake and the easiest way to depict this character. What would have been more interesting is to have Howard be very skilled at hiding his despicable side. It would also explain why he got away with what he did to Claire and why she kept it a secret: She was afraid that no one would believe her. She also didn’t want to hurt Joyce by telling Joyce the awful truth about Howard.
People should not expect “Moving On” to be a completely lighthearted film. There are some heavy and dark issues in the movie. And not all of them are handled in the best way. However, the movie keeps things interesting enough for viewers who want to find out what will happen next. There’s a fable-like quality to “Moving On” that isn’t preachy, but it shows that getting deadly revenge for a grudge can be more toxic than what caused the grudge.
Roadside Attractions released “Moving On” in U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in California in the early 1970s (with some flashbacks to the 1960s), the faith-based dramatic film “Jesus Revolution” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A troubled and wayward teenager finds his purpose in life when he joins a group of hippies who become born-again Christians.
Culture Audience: “Jesus Revolution” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching faith-based biopics that make real events and real people look overly contrived for the purpose of the movie’s agenda.
The problems with “Jesus Revolution” have nothing do with religion. This 1970s-set biopic drama about Harvest Crusades founder Greg Laurie has too many bad scenes with hokey dialogue and subpar acting. Many of the cast members are not convincing as hippies. It’s an unfortunate drawback to the film, whose very foundation is about how counterculture hippies in early 1970s California became Christian fanatics who were part of the Jesus movement that spanned from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.
Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, “Jesus Revolution” is a disjointed and somewhat rambling movie that can’t decide how much it wants to be a biopic (which it mostly is) and how much it wants to be a historical drama about a Christian youth culture movement that peaked in 1972. Erwin and Jon Gunn co-wrote the “Jesus Revolution” screenplay, which is based on Laurie’s 2018 memoir of the same name. The movie has a lot very corny and trite scenarios that don’t look authentic at all. If this movie had not been based on a true story, then this lack of authenticity might be easier to overlook.
In its over-reaching zeal to put a glossy spin on this movement, “Jesus Revolution” never adequately addresses how hippies who wanted to drop out of society and turned to drugs could then want to become part of society and preach against their formerly “sinful” lifestyles. “Jesus Revolution” makes it look like all it would take for people to change their lifestyles so dramatically in a short period of time is to attend a few services at a church led by a sympathetic pastor. “Jesus Revolution” also looks like it deliberately omitted a lot of unflattering information about Laurie during the period of time in his life that is depicted in the movie.
Greg Laurie (played by Joel Courtney), who is the main protagonist of “Jesus Revolution,” is shown in the beginning of the movie attending a Christian group mass baptism at Pirate’s Cove in Pismo Beach, California, sometime in 1971. Most of the people getting baptisms at this event are people in their teens and 20s. Greg is about 18 years old at the time. At Pirate’s Cove, Greg is being interviewed by a reporter named Josiah (played by DeVon Franklin) from Time magazine. Josiah asks Greg, “How did you end up here?”
The movie then flashes back to a year earlier, when Greg was a student cadet at a strict military academy. At the time, he was still living with his alcoholic, divorced mother Charlene (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley), who pressured Greg to attend this school. Greg’s father abandoned the family when Greg was a very young child and has not been in contact with Charlene or Greg ever since leaving.
It’s not clear how long Charlene has been an alcoholic, but the movie implies that she went on a downward spiral after Greg’s father left the family. Flashbacks to the 1960s show that Charlene is often a neglectful parent who gets involved in several bad relationships. (Jackson Robert Scott has the role of an adolescent Greg in these flashbacks.) In real life, Greg Laurie’s mother was married seven times. He and his mother also moved around a lot.
In the movie, Greg keeps hoping that his father will come back to the family someday, but Charlene abruptly tells him not to bother thinking that Greg’s father will ever contact them again. When Charlene decides to move to California for a fresh start, Greg is upset because he thinks that his father won’t be able to find them if they move. Charlene and Greg settle in California’s Orange County, near Long Beach. By 1970, Greg is enrolled in a military academy and not liking it very much. He is a loner who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
One day, Greg (who is an aspiring illustrator) is taking photos at a park when he meets a hippie around his age named Charlie (played by Nicholas Cirillo), who is friendly and very stoned. Charlie immediately notices that Greg has been staring at Charlie’s attractive blonde friend named Cathe (played by Anna Grace Barlow), so Charlie introduces Cathe (pronounced “Cathy”) to Greg. Cathe is impressed that Greg reads the work of poet/writer Allen Ginsberg, because she does too. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Cathe and Greg will eventually fall in love with each other. Greg is instantly smitten, but he’s insecure and shy, compared to confident and outgoing Cathe.
Charlie and Cathe invite Greg to a “happening” (a gathering of young people who want to party), which is taking place in Laguna Beach. Janis Joplin (played by Erin Schaut) is doing a concert on a beach. The concert looks very fake because die-hard Joplin fans know that she never did this type of beach concert in real life.
The way Greg goes to this concert looks very phony too. Charlie and Cathe show up outside the window of a classroom where Greg is. They tell him he needs to go with them to the concert right now. When Greg gets up to leave, the classroom instructor says that if Greg leaves, he can’t come back. Greg tells the teacher that Greg is counting on not coming back.
Meanwhile, a Christian pastor named Chuck Smith (played by Kelsey Grammer) and his devoted wife Kay Smith (played by Julia Campbell) are watching the TV news in their home and expressing disgust at the hippie movement, which they think is degenerate and the cause of lot of America’s problems. “They need a bath,” Chuck sneers when he comments about hippies. (In real life, Chuck Smith founded the Calvary Chapel movement.)
Chuck leads a Costa Mesa, California-based church that is struggling with a dwindling congregation. Chuck and Kay have a slightly rebellious daughter named Janette Smith (played by Ally Ioannides), who’s about 17 years old. Janette looks bored every time she has to go to church. Unlike her parents, Janette thinks “what the hippies are doing is beautiful.” She tells her skeptical parents that hippies want the same things that conservative Christians want: “peace and love.”
One day, Janette is driving by herself on a deserted road, when she sees a hippie in his 20s who is walking by himself. Because Janette is fascinated with hippies, she stops the car and asks this stranger if he wants a ride. It’s a very unsafe thing to do, but Janette doesn’t care, because she wants to get to know a hippie instead of just hearing about hippies from the media. The hippie says yes to Janette’s offer for a ride.
His name is Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathan Roumie), and Janette immediately brings him home, to the horror of her parents. Lonnie admits to Chuck that he takes illegal drugs for “spiritual enlightenment,” but Lonnie insists that he is also very religious and believes in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t take long for Lonnie to invite his hippie friends to go over to the Smith house without asking permission. (How rude.)
And then the next thing you know, Lonnie and his hippie pals are going to Chuck’s church, where Lonnie gives a rambling sermon while barefoot. Some of the congregation members are repulsed and quit the church when Chuck refuses to reject and ban the hippies. Chuck sees the benefit of having young people increase his church’s attendance, so he eventually learns to accept the hippies.
Meanwhile, Greg gets involved in taking drugs and partying a lot with Charlie and Cathe. He becomes part of Lonnie’s born-again hippie Christian crowd when he meets Lonnie by chance one very rainy night. It’s another scene that looks entirely fabricated for a movie.
Greg is a passenger in a car driven by Charlie, who is intoxicated from unnamed substances. The car is swerving on a street and narrowly misses hitting another car. Greg is so freaked out, he gets out of the car and runs away. And when he runs away in the rain, he sees Lonnie walking by himself on the street, which is apparently the way that teenagers in “Jesus Revolution” meet Lonnie.
The rest of “Jesus Revolution” is a predictable slog of Greg and Cathe getting caught up in the born-again Christian movement, where they recruit other young people. Lonnie becomes an important part of Chuck’s ministry. Greg joins a Christian rock band called Love Song. Cathe’s father Dick (played by Nic Bishop) disapproves of Greg because Greg doesn’t come from a “good family.” And there’s more family drama with Greg’s mother Charlene.
Of course, “Jesus Revolution” has lots of scenes of young hippies gathered in large groups and praising the Lord in ecstasy. Although the movie makes it look like it’s all a natural high, the reality is (as Lonnie hints at in the movie), a lot it was probably done under the influence of drugs. And that’s one of many reasons why “Jesus Revolution” doesn’t look entirely honest, because in the movie, realistic drug issues are either ignored or dealt with in a preachy manner.
Although many drug-using hippies no doubt gave up having a druggie lifestyle after becoming born-again Christians, the movie doesn’t really acknowledge that a lot of the hardcore drug-using hippies who became part of the Jesus movement didn’t just wake up one day and decide to quit using drugs. “Jesus Revolution” makes it look that all these drug-using hippies suddenly became clean and sober once they became born-again Christians. In reality, people’s lives are much more complicated than that.
“Jesus Revolution” also avoids acknowledging that although the Jesus movement preached inclusivity of everyone, the young hippies (almost all are white) who get the focus in this movie came from middle-class and affluent families—in other words, people who could afford to “drop out” of society or go to college and not have the responsibilities of a steady job for a few years. At one point, Lonnie says: “We’re all orphans. We’re a movement of orphans.” Well, a lot of these “orphans” had trust funds.
Chuck’s acceptance of these hippies into his church probably wasn’t as altruistic and spiritual as the movie makes it look. There was probably a financial incentive too. More congregants can result in more donations for Chuck’s church. A lot of these hippies might have been walking around in bare feet, but they weren’t poor.
There’s a very mushy scene where Chuck responds to some churchgoers’ complaints about the hippies attending church in bare feet. In order to prove that he has the humility of Jesus Christ, Chuck washes the feet of the hippies (just like Jesus did in the Bible) when they enter his church. Chuck goes from being a hater of hippies to being one of their biggest supporters in his community.
“Jesus Revolution” has a good selection of soundtrack songs, including Rare Earth’s 1971 hit “I Just Want to Celebrate” and the Doobie Brothers’ 1972 classic “Jesus Is Just Alright.” However, the movie just looks like a bunch of cast members playing 1970s dress-up (some of them in really cheap-looking wigs) and reciting their lines of fake-sounding dialogue. And ultimately, the movie looks more like a fairy tale than an authentic depiction of real people involved in a historical movement.
Lionsgate released “Jesus Revolution” in U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023. A special sneak-preview event of the movie was held in select U.S. cinemas on February 22, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, primarily in Kyburz, California, the horror film “Fear” features a cast of predominantly white and African American characters (with a few Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A group of friends gather at a remote lodge to celebrate one of the friend’s birthday, and their worst fears become a reality when they find out the lodge is cursed.
Culture Audience: “Fear” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that are bad in every single way.
With a COVID-19 pandemic theme, the horror flick “Fear” is an idiotic time waster with a muddled story, tacky visual effects and weak ideas that are ripoffs of better-made horror films. Avoid this boring junk. Although there are a few fairly well-known entertainers in the movie’s cast, that star power isn’t enough to save “Fear” from its utter stupidity.
Directed by Deon Taylor (who co-wrote the atrocious “Fear” screenplay with John Ferry), “Fear” is yet another horror movie about people stuck in a remote location while terror is inflicted on them. In the case of “Fear,” this remote location is the fictional Strawberry Lodge in Kyburz, California, which is in the Lake Tahoe area. A group of nine people have gathered at the lodge to celebrate the birthday of woman in her 30s named Bianca (played by Annie Ilonzeh), who has a Ph. D. in religion.
Bianca’s boyfriend Rom Jennings (played by Joseph Sikora) has arranged this gathering as a surprise for Bianca. Rom is an author whose specialty is writing books about the paranormal and the unexplained. The movie opens with Rom doing a TV interview, where he says that he’s working on his next book, which will be about “the mythology of the Americas.”
Rom says of his forthcoming book, “I can’t really tell you too much about it, but what I can say is that is does squarely focus on the mythos and the mythology surrounding fear and the concept of fear.” He adds that he’s researching an area in Northern California that “permeates fear.” Rom then makes this obvious statement: “Fear is very real.”
During Rom and Bianca’s car drive to the Strawberry Lodge, they’re listening to the radio and hear a news report about Angel Wilson, a woman who disappeared from the Lake Tahoe area in 2015, when she was 26, and she is still missing. Bianca asks Rom to change the radio channel. It’s at this point you know that Angel will be mentioned several more times in the movie.
The seven friends of Rom and Bianca who have gathered to celebrate her birthday have mostly generic personalities in this poorly written movie. There is barely any information given about them, such as what they do for a living or how they know Rom and Bianca. The lodge has been rented so that these friends can have the place all to themselves. (How convenient for a horror movie.)
The other people in the group include Michael (played by Iddo Goldberg), a Brit who is Rom’s agent. Lou (played by Tip “T.I.” Harris) has been Rom’s friend since they were in eighth grade. Accompanying Lou on this trip is his girlfriend Kim (played by Tyler Abron), who is a single mother to an underage son.
Benny (played by Andrew Bachelor, also known as social media personality King Bach) is a photographer and the most inquisitive and talkative person in the group. Two other friends are a dating couple named Russ (played by Terrence Jenkins) and Meg (played by Jessica Allain). Another person in the group is Serena (played by Ruby Modine), who is superstitious and wears a “lucky” necklace with her at all times.
Rom has told Lou and Russ that he wants to propose marriage to Bianca, but so far (including during the trip to Strawberry Lodge), Rom got scared and couldn’t go through with his marriage proposal. It’s mentioned that this is the fourth time that Rom has failed to propose to Bianca. This marriage proposal is mentioned so many times, you’d think it would be a buildup to a big part of the story, but it isn’t.
Upon arriving at the lodge, the guests are greeted by a creepy hostess named Miss Wrenrich (played by Michele McCormick), who says that her family bought the lodge and rebuilt it after the lodge burned down in 1853. The lodge was originally built in 1838. Later, through research on the Internet, Benny finds out that the area has a sinister history of a group of witches calling themselves Las Brujas, who defended themselves against criminal Gold Rush miners, who would kidnap, rape, and sometimes kill women in the area.
Miss Wrenrich takes Bianca’s hand and says to her: “You carry the light, my dear. You’re a beacon.” This movie isn’t subtle at all about who’s most likely to survive the murder and mayhem that will ensue. Before she leaves, Miss Wrenrich insists on taking a group photo of the guests. She uses a Polaroid camera.
The COVID-19 pandemic is mentioned several times in conversations, although no one is social distancing or wearing masks. Because no one in the movie mentions being vaccinated, the movie appears to take place in 2020, before a COVID-19 vaccine was available. It’s mentioned briefly that Michael asked all of the guests (except for Bianca, since this gathering was a surprise to her) to take COVID tests before coming to the lodge, and all they all agreed. However, several of the guests become paranoid because Lou has been coughing frequently. Lou gets defensive when he finds out that some of the people in ths group suspect that Lou might be infected with COVID-19.
While gathered outside around a small bonfire one night, the friends confess their biggest fears. And it’s at that moment that you know that their fears will happen at some point in the movie. Bianca’s biggest fear used to be losing her religion, but more recently, her biggest fear has been losing the ability to breathe. Serena, who had a traumatic car accident when she was a child, says her biggest fear is losing control.
Russ says his biggest fear is blood. Kim says her biggest fear is not being able to take care of her son. Meg can’t swim, so her biggest fear is drowning. Lou says his biggest fear is not being trusted, especially by the people who depend on him. Benny was once handcuffed in a police brutality incident, so his biggest fear has anything to do with cops and handcuffs. Rom says his biggest fear is losing Bianca.
The rest of “Fear” has nothing but dull and not-very-interesting jump scares. As for the missing person Angel Wilson, who is mentioned numerous times in the movie, that’s a subplot that is badly mishandled and ends up being worthless. “Fear” is also completely worthless if people are looking for an entertaining horror movie.
Hidden Empire Film Group released “Fear” in U.S. cinemas on January 27, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2022, in the Los Angeles area and in Cartegena, Colombia, the dramatic film “Missing” (a spinoff of the 2018 film “Searching”) features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, Asian and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An 18-year-old woman who lives in Van Nuys, California, goes on a frantic search (mostly on her computer and phone) to find out what happened to her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, who both disappeared during a vacation trip to Cartegena, Colombia.
Culture Audience: “Missing” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “Searching” and who are interested in fast-paced mystery thrillers.
“Missing” somewhat devolves into climactic scene clichés in the movie’s last 15 minutes. The rest of “Missing” is an absorbing and occasionally implausible twist-filled thriller about how technology can be used to solve mysteries. “Missing” is a spinoff movie of 2018’s “Searching” (about a father who uses computer technology to search for his missing teenage daughter), and “Missing” has some clever ideas and surprises that aren’t in “Searching.” However, the ending of “Missing” is a little too close to copying the ending of “Searching,” by playing too fast and loose with perceptions about the life or death of the missing person.
Will Merrick and Nick Johnson wrote and directed “Missing” (which is the feature-film directorial debut of Merrick and Johnson), after the duo served as editors of “Searching.” Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, who co-wrote “Searching,” are credited with the story concept for “Missing” and are two of the producers of “Missing.” Chaganty made his feature-film directorial debut with “Searching,” which showed most of the father’s investigation happening on various computer screens and smartphone screens.
“Missing” follows a similar format of having most of the investigation shown on computer screens and smartphone screens, but “Missing” flips the script of “Searching”: Instead of a parent looking for a teenage daughter, “Missing” has a teenage daughter looking for a parent. In the case of “Missing,” this daughter has no other family members who can help her in this search.
“Missing” begins by showing a family home video from April 13, 2008, during what will be the family’s last trip together. James Allen (played by Tim Griffin) is on a kitchen floor with a kitten and his daughter June Allen (played by Ava Lee), who’s about 4 yearsold and who has the nickname Junebug. It’s a lighthearted family moment until June’s mother (played by Nia Long) notices that James has gotten a nosebleed.
The movie then shows that someone is looking at this home video in 2022: June Allen (played by Storm Reid), who is now 18 years old. It’s June 2022, and June has been looking sadly at this video because her father died in 2008, and Father’s Day is coming up in less than two weeks. June lives with her overprotective mother Grace Allen in Van Nuys, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. June has recently graduated from high school, and she doesn’t have any big plans for the summer.
This year will be the first year that June won’t have Grace nearby on Father’s Day. That’s because Grace is going on a romantic vacation trip to Colombia with Grace’s fairly new boyfriend Kevin Lin (played by Ken Leung), who is the CEO of a start-up company called All-Brand Consulting. The movie later reveals that Kevin and Grace met through a dating app. June’s relationship with Kevin is emotionally distant, and he’s been making attempts to get her to accept him because he says he’s in love with Grace and expects to be in a long-term relationship with her..
June is looking forward to having the house to herself and no adult supervision during Grace and Kevin’s weeklong vacation in Cartegena, Colombia. June has been tasked with picking up Grace and Kevin from Los Angeles International Airport on June 20, 2022. Grace has left behind some spending money for June, who ignores Grace’s complaints that June’s voice mailbox is full and needs to be cleared. June sometimes gets frustrated or amused when her mother gets confused by how to use a smartphone, such as when Grace mixes up using FaceTime with using Suri.
Even though June is dependent on Grace for nearly every necessity in life, June is at an age where she resents being treated like a child. Grace has asked her close friend Heather Damore (played by Amy Landecker), who’s a well-meaning and inquisitive attorney, to check in on June while Grace is away. June, who doesn’t really care for Heather, says with annoyance: “Mom, I don’t need a babysitter!” June also gets very irritated when Grace calls her Junebug, because June thinks that she has outgrown this childhood nickname.
While her mother is away, June spends a lot of time partying with friends, including her best friend Veena (played by Megan Suri), who has bought alcohol by using money that June gave her from the amount that Grace left behind. Montages of photos on Kevin’s social media show that he and Grace are having a lot of fun in Colombia. When it comes time to pick up Grace and Kevin from the airport, June almost oversleeps.
June has let the house become a mess, so she quickly uses Taskrabbit (an app for temporary workers) to find a housecleaner to tidy up the house before Grace gets home. Taskrabbit is shown and talked about enough times in the movie, it’s a little bit of overload on brand placement. When Grace gets to the airport, Kevin and Grace aren’t there. Grace and Kevin also aren’t responding to any attempts to communicate with them.
Feeling worried and confused, June calls Hotel Poma Rosa, the place where Grace and Kevin were staying in Cartegena. Her concern turns to alarm when she finds out that Grace and Kevin were last seen leaving the hotel two days ago, but they left behind all of their belongings. June knows a little Spanish, but she is able to communicate better in Spanish by using Google Translate. The front-desk clerk who talks to June on the phone says that the hotel has video surveillance for the main front entrance, but after 48 hours, the video gets recorded over.
By now, Grace’s friend Heather and June’s friend Veena have joined in on the frantic search. Through her attorney connections, Heather has contacted the U.S. Embassy in Columbia to file a missing persons report. The FBI has assigned an agent named Elijah Park (played by Daniel Henney) to lead the investigation, but he warns June that the FBI doesn’t have jurisdiction for certain crimes in Colombia. First, the FBI has to find out if any crimes have been committed in this missing persons case.
The FBI can’t guarantee that someone can be sent in time to look at the hotel’s video surveillance footage. And so, June takes it upon herself to use Taskrabbit to find a local person in Cartegena to do it for her. She ends up hiring a compassionate and resourceful middle-aged man named Javi (played by Joaquim de Almeida), who becomes a valuable aide in many things that June asks him to do in the search. It’s explained in this “race against time” movie that June can’t go to Colombia herself because she’s finding out important things at such a rapid pace, getting on a plane to Colombia would slow down her investigation.
Much of June’s investigation involves Internet searches and video phone calls, but the tension is ramped up by quick-cutting editing, so that looking at all these computer screens doesn’t get boring for viewers of the movie. Just like in “Searching,” the more the protagonist investigates, the more information is revealed to expose certain secrets. “Missing” keeps viewers guessing until a certain point if Kevin is a victim of foul play, or if he had something to do with Grace’s disappearance. And just when it looks like the movie will go one way, it goes another way, until the last (very predictable) 15 minutes.
All of the cast members give watchable performances in “Missing,” with Reid offering a very realistic and empathetic portrayal of June. She carries the movie quite well in expressing the myriad of emotions and experiences that June has in the story. Most of the other characters in the movie are somewhat generic, except for enigmatic Kevin. Leung skillfully handles this role that viewers and some of the movie’s characters can’t quite figure out up until a turning point if Kevin is a “good guy” or “bad guy.”
“Missing” also credibly depicts the obstacles faced by a teenager looking for a loved one who’s disappeared, since some people don’t take June as seriously as they would if she were a much older adult. It’s why it looks very believable that tech-savvy June would want to take matters into her own hands instead of waiting for law enforcement officials who’ve already shown and told her that they’re very busy with other things. Even with June’s believable “take charge” attitude, there are still some hard-to-believe moments in “Missing,” which uses lot of the quick-cut editing to mask some very improbable occurrences that happen much quicker in the movie than they would happen in real life.
And woe to anyone watching this movie who’s computer-illiterate, because some of the computer terminology and functions in this movie will just be too confusing for people who aren’t familiar with the apps and gadgets shown in the movie. Conversely, “Missing” is so reliant on showing computer technology of 2022, this movie will eventually look very dated. (“Missing” also has inside references to “Searching,” including a scene where June watches a true crime show called “Un-Fiction,” which has an episode with recreations based on the case that was in “Searching.”) There’s nothing award-worthy about “Missing,” but it’s still very entertaining for anyone who wants to spend nearly two hours watching an intriguing mystery film.
Screen Gems released “Missing” in U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in mainly in the fictional city of Mandarin, California, the horror film “Mid-Century” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Two spouses who are doctors move into a haunted house built in 1955 by an architect with a sinister past.
Culture Audience: “Mid-Century” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring and predictable horror movies.
“Mid-Century” does nothing unique or interesting in this witless and dreadfully dull story about ghostly revenge. The cast members’ performances are as flat and unremarkable as the wood panels of the mid-20th century house that spawned the movie’s title. It’s yet another formulaic movie about people who unwittingly move into a haunted house and find out too late what the house’s secrets are.
Directed by Sonja O’Hara and written by Mike Stern (who is the movie’s producer and who has a supporting role in the movie), “Mid-Century” doesn’t have an original concept, but it could have at least delivered a lot of suspense. Unfortunately, the movie fails on every level of horror entertainment. Instead of jump scares, “Mid-Century” is more like to bring big snores to people who waste any time watching this lackluster misfire.
“Mid-Century” begins by showing a renowed architect named Frederick Banner (played by Stephen Lang), sometime in the 1950s, in the fictional city of Mandarin, California. Frederick seems to be friendly when he greets his new neighbor Anthony Waxtan (played by James Gaudioso) when they’re outside: “How does the Mrs. like the neighborhood?” Anthony replies cheerfully, “She’s on cloud nine.”
Anthony’s wife Joanne Waxtan (played by Ellen Toland) might like the neighborhood overall, but she doesn’t like the way that Frederick has been leering at her. Joanne tells Anthony that she caught Frederick staring at her in the couple’s garden on a previous day. A concerned Anthony tells Joanne not to speak to Frederick.
Later, Anthony gives Joanne some lingerie as a gift. While she’s alone in the room, Joanne tries on the lingerie, while intruder Frederick lurks in the hallway and watches. Frederick then makes his presence known by creepily saying to Alice: “You and Anthony look so happy together. I admit, I haven’t felt like that since my Alice passed. You sure do look lovely, Joanne.”
A startled Joanne shouts for Anthony to help her. Frederick tells her, “Lower your voice, please. Don’t make me take off my belt.” It’s then that viewers see that Anthony can’t help Joanne. Anthony is outside the house, and he’s dead, hanging from a noose. It doesn’t take a genius to know who killed Anthony.
After “Mid-Century” reveals from its very first scene what Frederick was all about, it takes a sluggishly long time for the current residents of a Frederick Banner-designed house to discover his sinister past. The movie fast-forwards to the present day, when married couple Tom Levin (played by Shane West) and Alice Dodgeson (played by Chelsea Gilligan) have arrived in Mandarin to temporarily live in a house that was designed by Frederick Banner and built in 1955. Tom and Alice are both doctors who previously lived in San Diego, but they moved because Alice was sexually harassed by a supervisor named Dr. Volker (played by Bill Chott), and she quit her job over it.
Tom and Alice have rented the house for the weekend, but they might settle permanently in Mandarin if they like the area and if Tom can set up his own practice there. The house is owned by a weird man named Eldridge (played by Stern), an acquaintance of Tom and Alice’s who recommended the house to the couple. The trailer for “Mid-Century” already reveals what was supposed to be a surprise in the movie: Eldridge is really Frederick’s son, who grew up in foster care after his parents died. And you know what that means.
Later in the story, Tom and Alice find out that Frederick’s first wife Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1958. Frederick’s next wife was Joanne, the widowed neighbor whose husband was killed by Frederick. Joanne and Frederick died a month apart in 1983, in the same house where Tom and Alice currently live. Frederick passed away first. Joanne died of a heart attack.
“Mid-Century” is overstuffed with a multitude of horror clichés: It isn’t long before Tom and Alice find out that the house is haunted. The usual things happen: Dead people appear and disappear in ghostly form. The house’s current residents do research in old books and newspaper articles to try and find out the history of the house. And certain people in the story end up dead.
Two other characters are part of the story, but not in a very interesting way: Marie Verdin (played by Sarah Hay) is someone connected to Frederick’s past. The truth about Marie is incredibly predictable. Another name from Frederick’s past that comes up is Emil Larson (played by Bruce Dern, shown in flashbacks), who died in 1976, at the age of 92. Emil, who had a huge influence on Frederick, is described in the movie as an author, futurist, painter and agnostic mystic.
“Mid-Century” has a “reveal” about Frederick that is supposed to be shocking, but it’s really as bland and underwhelming as the rest of the movie. All of the cast members play their roles as if they’re going through the drab motions of people who just don’t care enough to give convincing performances. “Mid-Century” is so monotonous and lacking in creativity, it’s the type of dud that will be forgotten quicker than you can say, “Stupid horror movie.”
Lionsgate released “Mid-Century” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 26, 2022. Peacock began streaming the movie on October 24, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the dramatic film “Fall” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two young women set an adventure challenge for themselves by climbing a 2,000-foot TV tower in a remote desert area in California, but then they get stranded on the tower without being able to get signals on their phones to call for help.
Culture Audience: “Fall” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching survival thriller movies that aren’t award-worthy but offer plenty of suspense and satisfactory entertainment.
“Fall” is a suspenseful “lives in peril” thriller with a key part of the story that requires some suspension of disbelief. The movie also runs longer than necessary. However, there’s enough realism and competent acting to overcome any of the movie’s flaws.
Directed by Scott Mann (who co-wrote the “Fall” screenplay with Jonathan Frank), “Fall” starts off as a fairly straightforward survival story, but it has two major plot twists that should surprise most viewers. One of the plot twists has a soap opera element to it, and it’s not as surprising as the other plot twist. “Fall” could have used better film editing, which drags out the movie’s middle section and then rushes the movie’s ending.
“Fall,” which takes place in California, opens with a scene of three adventurous people in their late 20s on a mountain climbing trip where they are using ropes for safety but are climbing the rocks with bare hands. The three people on this trip are Becky Connor (played by Grace Caroline Currey); Becky’s husband, Dan Connor (played by Mason Gooding); and Becky’s best friend Shiloh Hunter (played by Virginia Gardner), who wants to be called Hunter. Suddenly, a bird flies out of a crevice and startles Dan, who slips and falls to his death.
The movie’s timeline then fast-forwards nearly one year later (51 weeks, to be exact) and shows a grieving and depressed Becky, who has become a recluse on her way to becoming an alcoholic, if she’s not an alcoholic already. Her father, James (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), has become very worried about Becky’s physical and mental health, but she brushes off his concerns. She’s been ignoring his phone calls and avoiding him in other ways.
In one of his voice mail messages, James tells Becky: “A horrible thing happened to you, but you have to start living your life again. There’s a whole big, wide world that needs you. And believe it or not, I need you.” It’s mentioned early on in the movie that James did not approve of Dan, and it’s one of the reasons why Becky has been estranged from James.
One night, James sees a drunk Becky coming out of a bar. He offers to give her a ride home, but she refuses. James then tells Becky something that makes an emotional impact on her: James says that if Becky had died on that fateful trip, and Dan had lived, Dan would not be “drowning in his sorrows.” Later, when Becky is at home, she finds out that Dan’s cell phone number, which she had been calling just to hear his outgoing voice mail message, has now been disconnected.
Becky sees this phone disconnection as a sign that she should start trying to move on with her life. Around the same time, Becky hears from someone she hasn’t really been in touch with since Dan’s death: Hunter, the best friend who also witnessed everything in Dan’s fatal accident.
Becky and Hunter have had opposite reactions to Dan’s death. Becky has become emotionally withdrawn and is now terrified of heights. Hunter has become more of a daredevil and has created a social media persona for herself called Danger D, so that she can become famous for doing risky stunts.
Hunter has reached out to Becky to pitch an adventure challenge that Hunter wants to put on Hunter’s social media channels: Hunter and Becky will climb to the top of the B67 TV Tower, which is 2,000 feet high and in a remote desert area. The B67 TV Tower is a fictional name for the movie, but it’s based on the real-life 2,000-foot KXTV/KOVR radio tower, also known as the Sacramento Joint Venture Tower, in Walnut Grove, California. A much-smaller replica (about 60 feet high) of the Sacramento Joint Venture Tower was used for “Fall,” and the 2,000-feet-high appearance was created through visual effects.
Becky’s first reaction to Hunter’s invitation is to immediately say no. Hunter pleads with Becky: “It would be an adventure, like old times. And you can scatter Dan’s ashes on top [of the tower] … If you don’t confront your fears, you are always going to be afraid.”
After thinking about it for a short time, Becky agrees. She says to Hunter, “If you’re scared of dying, don’t be afraid to live. That’s what Dan used to say. Let’s do it. Let’s climb your stupid tower.”
The two pals go on the trip, which includes walking about one mile to get to the tower. The movie never really explains why Becky and Hunter couldn’t drive closer to the tower except to say that they just couldn’t. Another unexplained aspect of the story is why Becky and Hunter didn’t carry enough food and water with them for their tower climb. Hunter and Becky only brought a few granola bars and two bottles of water. It’s a foolish decision they will soon regret.
Becky and Hunter have their cell phones with them though. Hunter uses her phone to take photos and videos to post on social media. Hunter also announces to her several thousand followers on social media that she and Becky will be climbing the B67 TV Tower. When Becky and Hunter get to the tower, Becky hesitates and says she can’t go through with climbing it. But once again, Hunter convinces Becky to change her mind.
On the climb up, the movie foreshadows the danger to come by showing how, unbeknownst to Becky and Hunter, a few screws have come loose from the tower during the climb. Becky and Hunter are too far away to see these screws fall out of their sockets. However, what Hunter and Becky see is that this creaky tower is rusty and rickety, but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to climb up this shaky-looking structure.
Most people who see “Fall” will probably know before watching the movie that the story is about two women who get trapped on a very high tower in the desert. (It’s also shown in the movie’s trailer.) Hunter and Becky get trapped when the tower’s ladder falls down, due to the missing screws, and both women find out that they can’t get signals on their phones from where they are trapped on the tower.
The rest of “Fall” is about Hunter and Becky’s desperate efforts to get help, since the now-useless ladder was their only means of getting down from the tower. Becky and Hunter have ropes, but the ropes aren’t long enough to slide back down to the ground. Perhaps the movie’s biggest plot hole is that it tries to make it look like no one will come looking for Becky and Hunter. But this wasn’t a secret trip: Hunter already announced in real time on social media that she and Becky were going to climb this tower.
In the meantime, the movie depicts the dangers of being stranded in a remote area without enough food and water. And, as expected in a movie titled “Fall,” there are plenty of scenes that are meant to give the feeling of vertigo to anyone watching. Hunter and Becky come up with some ideas to try to get help, but there are some setbacks when they try these ideas.
When “Fall” tends to get repetitive and the pacing gets a little sluggish, what makes the movie worth watching are the believable performances by Currey and Gardner as estranged friends who share a tragedy and whose attempt to reconnect goes terribly wrong in many ways. No one is going to get nominated for any major awards for “Fall,” but the cast members are convincing in the roles that they perform for this movie. “Fall” also shows in effective ways that the movie isn’t only about conquering a fear of heights but also about conquering a fear of heartbreak.
Lionsgate released “Fall” in U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the dramatic film “The Wheel” has a racially diverse cast of characters (Native American, white, Asian and multiracial) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A married couple, contemplating divorce after eight years of marriage, will decide if they will split up or stay together during a getaway retreat.
Culture Audience: “The Wheel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in authentic-looking relationship dramas with characters who are neurotic.
“The Wheel” thinly stretches the “will they or won’t they break up” dilemma for the movie’s central married couple, until the movie’s very last scene, which is the best part of the film. This relationship drama is mostly well-acted but very repetitive. Despite its shortcomings, “The Wheel” at least realistically depicts people and relationships as sometimes messy and flawed.
Directed by Steve Pink and written by Trent Atkinson, “The Wheel” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie’s title could be inspired by the pivotal last scene, which takes place when the two spouses have an emotionally charged conversation on a Ferris wheel. However, the title of “The Wheel” could also refer to the seemingly endless cycle of dysfunction and anguish that can happen if people fail to communicate properly in relationships.
That’s why this question is presented throughout the film: “Will anyone in this couple want to stay in this marriage, which keeps going around in circles of arguments and misunderstandings?” The movie’s opening scene shows married couple Albee (played by Amber Midthunder) and Walker (played by Taylor Gray) having just such an argument.
Albee and Walker, who are both about 24 years old, live in California, where the movie was filmed on location in Angelus Oaks and Malibu. Albee is an aspiring actress, while Walker’s job is not stated in the movie. Walker and Albee later tell someone that they got married at age 16, and have been married for eight years.
Why did they get married so young? Walker and Albee, who are both originally from Texas, both grew up fast in the foster-care system. They no doubt married each other to feel like they could have some kind of stable family life that they didn’t have as foster kids.
And now, the marriage of Albee and Walker has reached a critical point. The movie’s opening scene shows Albee telling Walker that she’s irritated by him when they are somewhere outdoors. Walker says he doesn’t know why she’s angry with him, but that he’s sorry for whatever he did.
This apology just makes Albee even more upset, because she thinks Walker should know what made her angry in the first place. Albee doesn’t want to explain it all to Walker. She thinks part of the problem is that he’s completely unaware of what he did to offend her. The argument continues when Albee and Walker are seated at a table in a diner.
Eventually, Albee and Walker call a tentative truce in this argument. However, this argument is an indication of how Albee and Walker interact with each other for most of the movie. Albee expects Walker to read her mind and know instinctively how to make her happy. Walker wants to make Albee happy, but she doesn’t express to him that she loves him as much as he loves her.
Walker is an optimist about love and wants to save the marriage. Albee is a pessimist and is more reluctant to stay married to Walker, but she’s also afraid of being alone and getting hurt by divorce. Albee gives Walker the impression that she’s possibly fallen out of love with him, while he’s still in love with Albee and wants to bring back the romantic passion in their marriage.
Eventually, Albee and Walker decide to go to a getaway retreat, by renting a cabin in the woods. Before taking this trip, Walker and Albee agree that they will decide the fate of their marriage during this retreat. They also vow to be completely honest with each other, regardless if what they have to say is good or bad. Walker has recently bought a relationship self-help book, and he wants to use the book’s advice with Albee during this trip.
Albee and Walker have rented the cabin through Airbnb. The cabin’s Airbnb hosts are an engaged couple in their 30s named Carly (played by Bethany Anne Lind) and Ben (played by Nelson Lee), who are staying at a nearby cabin and at first seem to have an idyllic relationship. Soon after Walker and Albee arrive at the cabin, they both meet Carly, who welcomes Albee and Walker in a friendly manner. However, Carly can’t help but notice the tension between Walker (who is polite to Carly) and Albee (who is standoffish to Carly) as soon as Carly meets them.
Carly mentions that she hopes that Albee and Carly will find the cabin ambience to be romantic during the couple’s stay, but Albee comes right out and tells Carly that Albee and Walker have taken this getaway trip to decide if their marriage is worth saving. It’s an awkward moment, but it sparks curiosity in Carly to try to help Albee and Walker. Carly takes it upon herself throughout most of the story to be an unofficial relationship counselor to these two strangers.
Albee is immediately annoyed when she finds out that the cabin has no WiFi service, and she can’t get a signal on her cell phone. She goes outside and is elated when she’s able to get a phone signal. Walker can’t help but notice that Albee has been excitedly communicating with someone by text when she begins using her phone. It’s eventually revealed who this mystery person is.
On the first night that Albee and Walker stay at the cabin, she smokes a marijuana joint in a sauna and seems skeptical when Walker says, “If we can get through these last few months, we can get through anything.” Albee asks, “We’ll be okay though, right?” Walker senses Albee’s lack of interest in talking about their relationship in a meaningful way, so Walker leaves the room without answering the question.
Later, Albee rebuffs Walker’s advances to be sexually intimate. She tells a dejected Walker, “I’m not there. Sorry.” Walker says, “That’s okay. Sleep tight.” The movie keeps showing over and over that Walker wants to offer love, respect and passion to Albee, but she keeps rejecting him at every turn.
Carly has noticed this imbalance in the relationship too. On the first night that Albee and Walker are in the cabin, Carly tells Ben what was her first impression of Albee and Walker. Carly says that Walker seems nice, but Carly thinks that Albee is the kind of woman who thinks she’s too good for her partner. And so, when Ben meets Albee and Walker later, Ben already has a negative impression of Albee.
Albee (who is often rude and sarcastic to people) and Ben (who is laid-back and equally sarcastic) end up clashing with each other and insulting each other. Carly tries to be a peacemaker in arguments between Albee and Walker. And there are several arguments and sullen silences between Albee and Walker in this movie. After a while, these marital spats and refusals to talk to each other get a little tiresome. About halfway through this 83-minute movie, you’ll probably wish that Albee and Walker would just make up their minds already if they’re going to stay together or go their separate ways.
And why is Carly so personally invested in these two strangers and so ready to meddle in their marriage? It turns out that Carly and Ben are having some relationship issues too. Carly is excited to make wedding plans. As for Ben? Not so much. Carly thinks it has to do with men typically not being as heavily involved in wedding planning as women are.
After a while, it becomes obvious that Carly wants to be like an unofficial relationship counselor to Albee and Walker because Carly feels that she’s losing control of her own relationship. Carly is a die-hard romantic who thinks she can “fix” things in relationships if she just shows enough compassion. She even goes as far as asking Ben to surprise Albee and Walker by offering them a portable table of breakfast food so that Albee and Walker can eat breakfast in bed. He reluctantly goes along with the idea.
Ben feels almost the exact opposite way as Carly does in dealing with Albee and Walker. Ben thinks that he and Carly should mind their own business when it comes to Albee and Walker’s marriage, and Albee and Walker are better off figuring things out on their own. Ben also believes some relationships are doomed, no matter how much counseling is done. And he thinks Albee is very annoying, because Ben says that Albee reminds him of the women he used to date for the past 20 years in previous bad relationships.
As the couple struggling with the decision to break up or stay together, Midthunder and Gray give riveting performances, although at times there’s a little bit of overacting between the two of them. Lind and Lee, as the less-volatile couple Carly and Ben, are adequate in their roles, with Lee’s acting skills being a little stitled and wooden in a few scenes. Pink’s direction of “The Wheel” builds up enough tension for viewers to be curious about what will happen to these couples, but the movie tends to drag in some areas. Expect to see multiple scenes of pouting Albee and melancholy Walker staring off into space during the moments when they’ve decided to stop talking to each other.
Carly and Ben serve as a counterpoint to Albee and Walker, because both couples are unraveling in their own ways. Carly and Ben are lot quieter about their problems than Albee and Walker are, because Albee and Walker put their marital discord on public display. Albee (who is fickle, abrasive and often very selfish) will undoubtedly be considered the character in the movie who’s the most difficult to like, but “The Wheel” isn’t about making all of the characters “likable.”
People who are like Albee are usually very emotionally damaged for any number of reasons. The movie skillfully shows that people who are like Albee have such low self-esteem, they don’t think they deserve love. And when someone offers true love to these deeply insecure people, they often want to push that person away, or hurt that person first, in order to avoid getting hurt. In many respects, “The Wheel” is a fascinating portrait of love, patience and forgiveness. It’s also about having the courage to navigate relationship minefields, as well as having the courage to walk away when a relationship isn’t worth saving.
Quiver Distribution released “The Wheel” on digital and VOD on July 22, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in California’s Los Angeles County and Daly City, the comedic film “Easter Sunday” features a cast of predominantly Asian characters (with some white people and a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A struggling, divorced actor in the Los Angeles area is pressured to go to his family’s annual Easter Sunday dinner about 385 miles away in Daly City, on the same day that he might have to be in Los Angeles for an important event that could change his career for the better.
Culture Audience: “Easter Sunday” will appeal primarily to people are are fans of star Jo Koy and any family comedy that wallows in mediocre and predictable stereotypes.
The uninspired comedy “Easter Sunday” is like being served rotten Easter eggs that went stale years ago. It piles on over-used and tired clichés about family reunions, while dumping in a silly subplot about paying a debt to a vengeful criminal. This predictable tripe might have been more appealing if it had just stuck to the family issues. But instead, “Easter Sunday” goes off the rails toward the last third of the movie when it forces a ridiculous and horribly written crime caper into this already weak storyline.
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, “Easter Sunday” (which was written by Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo) can certainly be praised for having diversity in the movie’s cast and behind-the-scenes filmmaking team. However, that diversity doesn’t automatically mean that the movie is going to be any good. Unfortunately, “Easter Sunday” missed an opportunity to be a standout comedy film for having a truly original and amusing story. “Easter Sunday” has so many ripoffs and recycled tropes from similar comedy films, it’s embarrassing.
There’s the male protagonist who has a love/hate relationship with certain family members. There’s the big family reunion that’s supposed to cause him a lot of stress. There’s the goofy sidekick who gets the protagonist in all sorts of trouble. And that trouble usually involves cartoonish violence and hard-to-believe scenarios. All of these stereotypes are in “Easter Sunday,” which mostly fails to be funny, charming, bold or interesting.
In “Easter Sunday,” the protagonist is a struggling actor named Joe Valencia (played by Jo Koy), who is on the verge of getting his first big break in years: starring in a TV comedy series. Joe, who lives in Vernon, California (a suburb of Los Angeles), is a divorced father to a son who is about 16 or 17 years old. Joe’s son is also named Joe but is nicknamed Junior (played by Brandon Wardell), who is often estranged from Joe because Joe has a long history of being a flaky parent who avoids spending family time with Junior.
What makes Joe’s unstable parenting even worse is that Junior doesn’t live very far from Joe. Therefore, Joe has no real excuse for why he doesn’t spend time with Junior as much as Joe should. Joe’s ex-wife Catherine (played by Carly Pope), who is remarried, has custody of Junior. Catherine’s current husband Nick (played by Michael Weaver) is a player for the professional ice hockey team the Los Angeles Kings. Nick is good-looking, athletic, and makes a lot more money than Joe does. Nick and Junior also get along with each other.
And you know what that means: Joe is predictably jealous. This jealousy comes out in a scene where Joe makes a rare visit to Catherine and Nick’s home to pick up Junior for a father/son visit. Before they leave, Nick and Joe have a petty argument because Nick insists on making Joe a nutritious smoothie drink. Joe reluctantly takes the smoothie drink but then dumps it out on a street near the house as Joe is driving away. Joe deliberately does it in full view of Catherine and Nick, so that the couple can see Joe make this mess. It’s the first of many signs that Joe can be obnoxious and immature.
Junior is close to being put on academic probation at the private school that he attends, but Joe doesn’t feel equipped to handle this problem. Still, Joe agrees to attend a parent-teacher meeting at the school with Catherine and Junior to discuss this issue. And it should come as no surprise that the meeting is on the same day that Joe has to audition for this sitcom, which is called “Great Scott.”
Joe is being considered for the TV show’s starring role, in which he would be portraying an attorney. Joe’s ambitious and smarmy agent Nick (played by “Easter Sunday” director Chandrasekhar) knows that this audition is the biggest thing that’s come along for Joe in years. This major opportunity leads to Nick putting enormous pressure on Joe to do whatever it takes to get the job.
Joe’s main claim to fame is starring in a beer commercial that aired years ago. In this commercial, he shouted the catch phrase, “Let’s get this party started, baby!” (with “baby” pronounced “baybay”), which became his signature line as an actor. The problem is that Joe has become pigeonholed as that “beer commercial guy,” and people who know he’s an actor always expect him to say that line. (And expect to hear people in “Easter Sunday” say “Let’s get this party started, baby!,” repeatedly, to annoying levels.)
The school meeting is scheduled to take place after the audition. During the audition, Joe’s racial identity becomes a point of discussion that borders on offensive. Just like Koy’s real-life racial identity and family backround, Joe is biracial. His mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, and his father is a white American, who abandoned the family when he was a child. In the audition, Joe is asked to make his voice sound more “half-Filipino.” Joe is insulted because he thinks he should play the role with his natural American accent.
However, the audition runs much longer than Joe expected. And so, Joe misses the parent-teacher meeting. Junior and Catherine are disappointed, but not surprised. Meanwhile, Nick tells Joe in multiple phone calls that Joe will get the role in “Great Scott,” but only if Joe does what the TV network wants for the “half-Filipino accent.” Joe is told to stand by and be available in case there needs to be a follow-up meeting with executives from the TV network.
In the midst of this potential career-changing opportunity, Joe gets a call from his domineering mother Susan (played by Lydia Gaston), who lives in Daly City, a San Francisco suburb that’s about 385 miles north of Los Angeles. Susan insists that Joe and Junior attend their family’s annual Easter Sunday reunion. Joe reluctantly agrees, even though he knows he could be called to have a last-minute meeting with TV executives in Los Angeles. And so, Joe and Junior take a road trip to Daly City.
The other family members attending the reunion are:
Teresa (played by Tia Carrere), Susan’s sister/Joe’s aunt, who has been feuding with Susan for years for a reason they both can’t remember. Teresa (who is vain and shallow) and Susan (who is cranky and judgmental) are highly competitive with each other to prove who’s the “best” family member.
Eugene (played by Eugene Cordero), Teresa’s ne’er-do-well son, who is always on the hustle for his next “get rich quick” scheme. Eugene greatly admires his older cousin Joe, who has recently invested $20,000 for Eugene’s new business venture.
Regina (played by Elena Juatco), Joe’s sensible younger bachelorette sister, who works as a nurse. Regina is slightly envious but happy that Joe got to follow his dreams to become an actor, while she felt pressured by their mother Susan to have a more stable profession.
Yvonne (played by Melody Butiu) and Manny (played by Joey Guila), Joe’s married aunt and uncle, who can be boisterous and opinionated at family events, but these spouses generally get along with everyone in the family. Yvonne and Manny (who is the brother of Susan and Teresa) try to stay out of the feud between Susan and Teresa.
Arthur (played by Rodney To), Joe’s eccentric bachelor uncle, who works as a mailman and likes to keep a secret arsenal of weapons hidden in his clothes. (You can bet that this weapons stash will be used for slapstick comedy in the movie.)
Eugene told Joe that Eugune’s new business venture would be a taco truck. But after Eugene took Joe’s money, Eugene changed his mind and decided the truck (which Eugene has named Hypetruck) would sell the latest fad games and toys. Bizarrely, Eugene also wants to sell trendy designer clothes and high-priced athletic shoes from the truck, without thinking that the image-conscious target customers for this type of apparel wouldn’t want to tackily buy these items from a truck. Joe isn’t happy when he finds out about this “bait and switch” scam that Eugene pulled on him.
Joe gets even more irritated when he finds out that Eugene owes $40,000 to a gun-toting shady character named Dev Deluxe (played by Asif Ali), who owns and operates a jewelry store called Jewelry Jamz in a Daly City shopping mall. But the store is just a money-laundering front for Dev’s illegal businesses, which aren’t named in the movie, but viewers can use their imagination. It doesn’t take long for Dev to show up with some of his thugs to threaten Eugene with bodily harm if Eugene doesn’t pay back the money in the short period of time that just happens to be the same period of time that Joe will be in Daly City.
The rest of “Easter Sunday” is an awkward mix of Joe and Eugene trying to come up with the money while attempting to make it to Susan’s home on time for the Easter Sunday dinner. It leads to a not-very-funny subplot of stolen boxing gloves that were worn by Manny Pacquiao; an encounter with actor Lou Diamond Phillips (playing a version of himself); and lots of bickering and nagging from Susan and Teresa.
Junior has taken up photography as a hobby (he has a vintage camera that uses film), which is how he meets his love interest Tala (played by Eva Noblezada), when Junior is taking some photos in a park. After a brief flirtation, Junior (who doesn’t have a lot of experience in dating) and Tala (who is sassily confident and sarcastic) start hanging out together. Junior shyly invites Tala to the Easter Sunday family dinner. It’s just an excuse for Tala to be with this family when some of the dumb shenanigans start happening.
And gee, what a coincidence: Tala works at Jewelry Jamz, the store owned by Dev, Eugene’s angry and violent debtor. “Easter Sunday” also has a clumsily written “coincidence” when Joe, Eugene, Tala and Junior end up in a high-speed car chase. The cop who pulls them over just happens to be Joe’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa Morgan (played by Tiffany Haddish), who is still bitter that the relationship ended because Joe cheated on her. This encounter with Vanessa is in the “Easter Sunday” trailer, and it’s just more of Haddish playing a tacky “angry black woman” stereotype that she keeps doing for most of her on-screen roles.
In the race against time to get the money to pay back Dev, “Easter Sunday” has a subplot about Joe and Eugene enlisting the help of an acquaintance named Marvin (played by Jimmy O. Yang), who sells black-market designer merchandise (mostly athletic shoes) in the back room of a store. Marvin’s role in “Easter Sunday” isn’t nearly as terrible as Vanessa’s role, but it’s still not a very interesting character. Yang is a skilled stand-up comedian whose talent is under-used in this fairly bland role.
“Easter Sunday” wastes some time where Koy, who’s best known as a stand-up comedian, has to have a scene where he does a version of his stand-up act. This inept scene takes place during a church service, where it goes from the priest Father Hildo (played by Rodney Perry) publicly shaming Joe for not donating enough money to the church, to Joe getting in front of the congregation and doing low-rent, stand-up comedy to win over the crowd. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
The movie’s ways of depicting Filipino culture and Filipino American culture are superficial at best and mishandled at worst. There are the expected close-up shots of Filipino food on dining tables, which is something that is very easy to do in a movie. What’s much harder to do, especially in a comedy, is depiciting Filipino cultural pride in an authentic way that doesn’t pander to negative clichés. For example, in the “Easter Sunday” subplot about Manny Pacquiao’s boxing gloves, Joe insists that only someone of Filipino heritage can own the gloves, which is just a phony and cumbersome way to drag out the hijinks related these boxing gloves.
The performances by the “Easter Sunday” cast members range from adequate to over-the-top hammy. Koy’s Joe character is just a formulaic retread of what stand-up comedians usually do when they have a starring role in their first major feature film: They play a character who’s a clownish screw-up in need of redemption and “important life lessons.” Wardell and Noblezada (as would-be couple Junior and Tala) fare the best at having the most naturalistic performances and the best comedic timing. Everyone else is just playing stereotypes.
Expect to see a lot of pouting and preening from Gaston and Carrere as feuding sisters Susan and Teresa. The way this family feud is handled in “Easter Sunday” plays into outdated and sexist perceptions of women as “catty” and “difficult” if they’re obnoxious, but irresponsible men like Joe and Eugene are supposed to be thought of as “funny” and “freewheeling” if they’re obnoxious. Unfortunately, the very talented Phillips is not in “Easter Sunday” as much as people might think he’s in the movie. His “Easter Sunday” screen time is less than 15 minutes.
“Easter Sunday” does make an attempt to have some heartfelt family moments, but they are too often marred by making these family members look very dorky—and not in a good way. There’s an extremely cringeworthy karaoke scene involving the family singing Black Eyed Peas’ over-played 2009 hit “I Gotta Feeling,” as if they’re the coolest family in California. This scene will just make viewers wonder what year this moldy and out-of-touch “Easter Sunday” screenplay was completed.
Sometimes, a movie can have a scene-stealing villain who makes the film more entertaining to watch. “Easter Sunday” doesn’t have this type of villain. Dev is just a complete buffoon who has some of the worst lines in “Easter Sunday.” Dev’s last few scenes in the movie are just a sloppily edited and witless atrocity that looks like the “Easter Sunday” filmmakers ran out of ideas for this foolish character.
At the same time, “Easter Sunday” tries to cram in too many subplots with the Joe character and ends up over-relying on lackluster and predictable ways to try to resolve these subplots. Easter Sunday is a religious holiday about a miracle. This hackneyed “Easter Sunday” movie needed a miracle to make it a throroughly entertaining comedy.
Universal Pictures will release “Easter Sunday” in U.S. cinemas on August 5, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Santa Clarita Valley, California, the sci-fi horror film “Nope” has a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, Asian and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A brother and a sister, who work together on a horse ranch, join forces with a Fry’s Electronics salesman to visually document an unidentified flying object (UFO) in their area.
Culture Audience: “Nope” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Jordan Peele and stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, but this frequently monotonous and unimaginative movie is an unfortunate case of hype over substance.
Does the sci-fi horror flick “Nope” live up to the hype? The title of this disappointing bore says it all. It’s a rambling, disjointed, self-indulgent mess that does nothing innovative for movies about UFOs. It’s obvious that writer/director/producer Jordan Peele got this movie made without anyone stepping in to question the very weak and lazy plot of “Nope,” and to ask for a screenplay rewrite to make drastic improvements that were desperately needed.
After the memorable originality of the previous two movies that Peele wrote and directed (2017’s “Get Out” and 2019’s “Us”), “Nope” looks like a movie that was made from a half-baked, unfinished screenplay draft that got greenlighted simply because Peele had enormous commercial and critical success with “Get Out” (which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and “Us.” “Nope” was filmed for IMAX screens, but having a bigger screen doesn’t always make a movie better. Considering all the outstanding and classic movies about UFOs, “Nope” has the substandard story quality of a UFO movie that was thrown together for a fourth-tier cable TV network or a direct-to-video release. Yes, “Nope” is that bad.
One of the reasons why “Nope” fails to live up to the hype is because before the movie’s release, the plot was shrouded in secrecy, as if “Nope” were some kind of masterpiece whose details dare not be leaked out, in order not to reveal a brilliant plot. There is no brilliant plot or even a clever plot twist in “Nope.” It’s just a tedious, badly structured movie about some people who see a UFO in the sky and decide to visually document it because they think it will make them rich and famous.
Too bad it takes so long (not until the last third of the movie) for any real action to take place in “Nope,” which should have been an exciting sci-fi horror film, but it just drags on and on with no real substance. Just because “Nope” has some Oscar winners and the big-budget backing of a major studio, that doesn’t automatically mean that the movie is going to be good. Peele is capable of doing much better movies (as evidenced by “Get Out” and “Us”), but “Nope” just looks like a cynical cash grab from filmmakers coasting on Peele’s previous successes.
Making matters worse, the talented cast members of “Nope” are stuck portraying hollow characters with vague backstories and a lot of cringeworthy or monotonous dialogue. Keke Palmer’s Emerald Haywood character is the only one in “Nope” who comes close to having a fully formed personality, but her character is quickly reduced to being a bunch of one-note soundbites and wisecracks. Everyone else in “Nope” is written as an incomplete sketch.
Characters in “Nope” end up working together in implausible ways. “Nope” also telegraphs way too early which character will have the big “heroic” scene during the inevitable showdown in the movie’s climax. The movie’s visual effects are adequate, but definitely not spectacular for a movie concept of this scope. Intriguing subplots are dangled in front of the audience, only to be left hanging. And many of the action scenes have some horrifically subpar editing.
And why is this movie called “Nope”? It’s because during certain scenes that are supposed to be scary, one of the characters says, “Nope,” as in, “No, I’m not having this right now.” It’s supposed to be an engaging catch phrase, but it’s really very tired and unoriginal. Most of the so-called “comedy” in “Nope” is fleeting and often falls flat.
An early scene in “Nope” (which takes place in California’s Santa Clarita Valley) shows Emerald Haywood and her older brother OJ Haywood (played by Daniel Kaluuya) on the set of a TV commercial, where they have been hired as animal wranglers. OJ and Emerald have inherited a horse ranch called Haywood Ranch (in the desert-like Agua Dulce, California) from their deceased father Otis Haywood Sr. (played by Keith David, who has a flashback cameo), a groundbreaking horse wrangler who worked on a lot of Hollywood productions. The Haywoods rent out their horses in a family business called Haywood Hollywood Horses.
The siblings’ mother is not mentioned. Don’t expect to find out how long Otis has been dead. Don’t expect to find out why OJ and Emerald have a ranch with about 10 horses, but they’re the only workers on the ranch. (It’s very unrealistic.) Don’t expect to find out if OJ and Emerald really love their ranch jobs or if they’re just doing it out of family obligation. These are some of the many reasons why “Nope” is so frustratingly shallow and poorly written.
On this particular TV commercial (what the commercial is for is never stated in “Nope”), OJ and Emerald have a black horse named Lucky that has been hired to be in the commercial. The horse is being filmed indoors, in front of a green screen. It’s OJ and Emerald’s job to handle the horse and tell people on the set how to interact with the horse.
OJ and Emerald have opposite personalities. OJ is quiet and introverted. Emerald is talkative and extroverted. Kaluuya, who gave a compelling Oscar-nominated performance in “Get Out,” plays a dreadfully dull character in “Nope.” It’s not Kaluuya’s fault. The character was written that way. And it’s a waste of Kaluuya’s talent.
Emerald is so talkative that she gives a mini-lecture to all the assembled cast and crew members about how the very earliest moving picture is considered to be Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 loop of cards titled “Animal Locomotion, Plate 626,” the very first scientific study to use photography. “Animal Locomotion,” an early example of chronophotography, featured an unidentified black man riding on a horse.
Emerald then asks the assembled group if they happen to know the name of the man who rode the horse. No one knows, of course. Emerald than proudly states that the man was actually an ancestor of Emerald and OJ, and his last name was also Haywood. There’s no way to verify if what Emerald is saying is true. And the people on this set don’t really seem to care. They just want to get the job done for this commercial.
There are some racial undertones to the cast and crew’s bored reaction to Emerald’s story, since OJ and Emerald are the only African American people on this set. It might be Peele’s way of showing that people who aren’t African American are less inclined to care about African American history. OJ seems slightly embarrassed and annoyed that Emerald is telling this story to people who obviously aren’t interested. Emerald also uses this moment to announce to everyone that she’s available for work as an actor, filmmaker, stunt person and singer.
The cinematographer for this commercial is a jaded elderly man named Antlers Horst (played by Michael Wincott), who will end up encountering OJ and Emerald again much later in the movie. Also on the set is actress Bonnie Clayton (played by Donna Mills), whose job is to interact with the horse. Although it’s nice that the “Nope” filmmakers hired former “Knot’s Landing” star Mills for this movie, because she doesn’t get enough work that she deserves, her role really is a cameo, with screen time of less than five minutes.
Emerald and OJ advise everyone on the set to remain calm around Lucky. And it’s at that moment you know things are going to go wrong. Lucky gets nervous about something and starts bucking and lunging in a way that’s dangerous. Because the horse is deemed unfit to be on this set, Emerald and OJ are fired. OJ says that they need this job, but the decision has been made to let them go.
OJ and Emerald then go to Jupiter’s Claim, a California Gold Rush theme park owned and operated by Ricky “Jupe” Park (played by Steven Yeun), a former child star who often acts as a show emcee at this theme park. Jupe is married and has three sons, ranging in ages from about 7 to 12 years old. Jupe’s wife Amber Park (played by Wrenn Schmidt) works with him at Jupiter’s Claim. Their sons Colton Park (played by Lincoln Lambert), Phoenix Park (played by Pierce Kang) and Max Park (played by Roman Gross) have brief appearances in the movie.
OJ decides that he’s going to sell Lucky to Jupe. Emerald is upset by this decision, but OJ reassures her that he plans to buy Lucky back when he has the money to do so. It’s a transaction that OJ and Jupe have done before, so Jupe is aware that his ownership of Lucky will probably be temporary.
Jupe knows about OJ’s financial problems and has been offering to buy OJ and Emerald’s ranch, but so far the offer has been declined. Later in the movie, OJ explains he’s not willing to give up Haywood Ranch because he wants to continue his father’s legacy: “He changed the industry. I can’t just let that go.”
It’s during this horse-selling transaction scene that viewers find out a little bit more about OJ and Emerald. OJ is the main caretaker and operator of the ranch. Emerald considers the ranch to be her “side job,” but she doesn’t really have a permanent career, because she jumps around from job to job as her main source of income. Emerald is also the “partier” of these two siblings: She likes to vape and is open about her fondness of smoking marijuana.
The siblings have some unspoken resentment about responsibilities for the ranch, as well as unresolved feelings about the death of their father. Later in the movie, Emerald confesses to OJ that when they were children, she was jealous when their father asked OJ to help train a Haywood family-owned horse named Jean Jacket, a horse that Emerald says she hoped would be the very first horse she would train and own. Get ready to roll your eyes: Later in the movie, the outer space entity in “Nope” is given the name Jean Jacket.
Emerald is openly queer or a lesbian, because she often dates women she works with or meets through her jobs. OJ mildly scolds Emerald about it because he thinks it’s unprofessional for her to mix her love life with her work life. Emerald brushes off his concerns. Meanwhile, as an example of how “Nope” doesn’t have a lot of character development, nothing is ever mentioned about OJ’s love life or anything about his life that isn’t about the ranch.
As for Jupe, he has an interesting background that is sloppily explored in “Nope.” Jupe’s main claim to fame as a child actor in the 1990s was playing a supporting character named Jupiter in a big hit movie called “Kid Sheriff” and then starring in a TV comedy series called “Gordy’s Home,” which was on the air from 1996 to 1998. In the meeting that Jupe has with OJ and Emerald, Jupe shows them a secret room where he keeps “Kid Sheriff” memorabilia. Jupe proudly mentions that a Dutch couple paid him $50,000 just so the couple could spend a night in this room.
Jupe’s experience with “Gordy’s Home” is what led him to quit being an actor. In “Gordy’s Home,” Jupe played an adopted child in a white family of two parents and an older sister. The family had a pet chimp named Gordy, and a lot of the show’s comedy revolved around this monkey’s antics.
Something shocking and traumatic happened one day while filming an episode of “Gordy’s Home.” And as an adult, Jupe still doesn’t want to talk about it, based on how he reacts when it’s quickly mentioned in a conversation between Jupe and OJ. What happened on that fateful day on the set of “Gordy’s Home” was big news. And this incident is shown as a flashback in “Nope.”
However, the way this flashback is dropped into “Nope” is so random and out-of-place, it’s very mishandled. This flashback is then never referred to or explained again in the movie. It’s a suspenseful scene, but it almost has no bearing on the overall story of “Nope” and seems to be in the movie only for some shock value.
It doesn’t take long for “Nope” to show the UFO (a generic-looking saucer-shaped object), which is first seen by OJ when he’s at the ranch. After he tells Emerald about it (his description is vague, because OJ is written as someone who’s barely articulate), Emerald immediately thinks they should try to film the UFO so they can get rich and famous from the footage.
And so, Emerald and OJ go to Fry’s Electronics to stock up on video surveillance equipment. Fry’s Electronics and the company logo get so much screen time in “Nope,” it’s brand placement overload. (All of this promotion of Fry’s Electronics in “Nope” is not going to do Fry’s Electronics much good anyway. In real life, Fry’s Electronics went out of business in 2021, the same year that “Nope” was filmed.)
At the store, OJ and Emerald meet sales clerk Angel Torres (played by Brandon Perea), who is overly talkative and curious about why OJ and Emerald are getting so much video surveillance equipment. Angel correctly guesses that it’s because OJ and Emerald want to film a UFO, but OJ and Emerald deny it. Angel also happens to be the Fry’s employee who delivers the equipment and helps install it. And you know what that means: Angel eventually finds out the truth, and he teams up with OJ and Emerald in their quest.
Angel is prominently featured in “Nope,” but he’s another example of an underwritten character in the movie. Viewers will learn nothing about Angel except that he was recently dumped by an actress ex-girlfriend named Rebecca Diaz, who was in a relationship with him for four years. Angel overshares this information the first time that he meets OJ and Emerald while lamenting that Rebecca broke up with him to star in a TV series on The CW network. OJ and Emerald don’t care, and neither will viewers of “Nope.”
Angel also goes on a mini-rant about how he doesn’t like how UFOs are now expected to be called UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), because he likes the term UFO more. And once again: OJ and Emerald don’t care, and neither will viewers of “Nope.” Angel isn’t too annoying, but he will get on some viewers’ nerves because of his condescending, know-it-all attitude.
Without going into too many details, “Nope” makes some weird decisions on what technology is used to visually document the UFO. Even with a lot of modern digital technology at their disposal, the people in this UFO-sighting group use some very outdated and clunky cameras that require film. The explanation provided is very phony and overly contrived.
Apparently, the “Nope” filmmakers thought it would like cool to have the characters using retro cameras that require film, even though film could be ruined a lot easier than digital footage. It makes no sense, except to add unnecessary hassles for the people trying to visually document this UFO. And yes, there’s a scene where a camera’s film needs to be inconveniently changed at a pivotal moment.
It should come as no surprise that the alien life form that’s hovering in the sky abducts living beings. The way this alien life form looks is not very original at all. However, even these abduction scenes are handled in an idiotic way in “Nope.” And none of it is truly terrifying.
There’s a scene where 40 people are abducted at the same time, but the abduction is mostly suggested and shown in brief flashes. This mass abduction makes the news. However, “Nope” has no realistic depictions of the huge investigations and military reactions that would ensue, or how much of a circus the abduction scene would be for the media and curiosity seekers.
When Emerald goes back to the abduction scene later in the movie, the place is deserted, and she has free access to the place, with no law enforcement, military, security personnel or media in sight of this notorious crime scene. It’s all just so stupid. And it’s very easy to predict which characters will survive during this mess, based on how often and how close the alien life form “chases” certain characters out in open fields (making them easy targets), but the alien life form never abducts them.
But the worst plot hole of all is that viewers are supposed to believe that for a certain period of time, only OJ and Emerald have witnessed this giant UFO that appears numerous times in the sky and would actually be seen for miles. It’s as if the “Nope” filmmakers want viewers to think that the only people who can see the UFO in the sky during these times are either at the ranch or looking at the ranch’s closed-circuit live surveillance footage, which Angel does because he’s nosy. It’s pathetic storytelling.
“Nope” also has pretentiously titled chapters, such as “Ghost” (named after the ranch’s white horse that doesn’t do anything but run away and come back a few times), “Clover,” “Gordy” and “Jean Jacket.” There’s not a consistent through line for these chapters, which are as haphazard as a mismatched jigsaw puzzle. The chapter titled “Gordy” is the one that shows the tragic incident that happened on the set of “Gordy’s Home.”
“Nope” has a few moments that effectively build tension for viewers to wonder what’s going to happen next. (There’s also a fake jump scare scene that would have been more interesting if it were real jump scare in the story.) But as a horror movie, “Nope” fails miserably to be frightening. There are parts of this movie that are so boring, some viewers will fall asleep. Don’t expect “Nope” to give a reason or a purpose for any life forms that come from outer space. In fact, don’t expect “Nope” to have a reason to exist other than to make blockbuster money and fool people into thinking that it’s a high-quality, entertaining movie.
Universal Pictures will release “Nope” in U.S. cinemas on July 22, 2022.