Review: ‘The True Adventures of Wolfboy,’ starring Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, Eve Hewson, Sophie Giannamore, Chloë Sevigny and John Turturro

November 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jaeden Martell in “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The True Adventures of Wolfboy”

Directed by Martin Krejcí

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York state and in Pennsylvania, the dramatic film “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 13-year-old boy with an unusually hairy face runs away from home to find his estranged mother, who abandoned him.

Culture Audience: “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” will appeal primarily to people who like somewhat quirky movies that have surrealistic qualities.

Jaeden Martell and Sophie Giannamore in “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The dramatic film “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” has its heart in the right place, but it’s expressed in a somewhat erratic way that leaves the movie feeling slightly off-kilter, only to be set on the right track by admirable performances by the some of the cast members. The movie can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a straight-ahead drama or a fantasy tale. Fortunately, the performances of most of the actors are worth seeing in this coming-of-age story that can be rambling and unfocused but redeems itself with the emotionally touching moments in the last third of the film.

Directed by Martin Krejcí and written by Olivia Dufault in their feature-film debut, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” centers on a 13-year-old boy named Paul Harker (played by Jaeden Martell), who has a biological condition called hypertrichosis, which causes excessive hair growth all over his body, including his face. Cutting the hair only makes it grow even more. Paul, who is an only child, lives in a modest house somewhere in New York state with his single father Denny (played by Chris Messina), who’s a sanitation worker/garbage collector.

Paul’s mother Jen (played by Chloë Sevigny) abandoned Paul and Denny years ago. It’s implied later in the story that Jen left when Paul was a baby and has not been in contact with him since. The movie begins on Paul’s 13th birthday, when he is staring at himself in a mirror and saying out loud: “I’m a regular kid. I’m just like everyone else. I’m a normal kid.”

For Paul’s birthday, Denny takes him to a carnival that’s nearby. Because Paul is self-conscious about his face, he often wears a ski mask in public. Denny has been teaching Paul to build his self-confidence, by trying to instill in Paul that he should conduct himself with “dignity.” He also advises Paul: “When you’re scared, you don’t run.”

That advice is easier said than done when shortly after they arrive at the carnival and are standing in line for an amusement-park ride, Paul is confronted by a three male bullies who are around his age. One of the brats is named Buck (played by Colin Patrick Farrell), who asks Denny, in reference to Paul’s mother: “How did it feel? To screw that dog?” And then he and his pals run away laughing.

After that awkward experience, Denny tells Paul that he needs to take off his ski mask while they are waiting in line. Paul reluctantly takes off the mask and braces himself for the stares and rude comments that he knows that he will get when people see his hairy face. Denny momentarily walks away, and the bullies come back and further taunt Paul by saying that his mother is a dog.

The three obnoxious teens then chase Paul away from the line, and he hides in a portable toilet, where the bullies come after him and yell at Paul by ordering him to bark like a dog. It’s a humiliating experience that Paul is very angry about when he and Denny are at home later. Denny can only say that he’s sorry that it happened while he tries to comfort his son.

Paul gets even angrier when Denny shows him a promotional video for Griffin School, a private learning institution for special-needs kids. Denny makes its clear that he wants Paul to go to the school. Paul reacts by telling Denny in a hostile tone of voice, “I think if you send me to this school, I’ll burn it to the ground.”

As a birthday gift, Denny gives Paul a watch. But there’s something else that Paul gets on his birthday that’s more important to him. A wrapped gift has arrived mysteriously at the house. When Paul opens the gift, he finds a map with a red line that’s drawn from where he lives in New York state to a city in Pennsylvania. On the map, are the handwritten words: “When you’re ready, there’s an explanation.” The gift doesn’t come with a return address or a name, so Paul assumes that the gift is from his mother.

Denny asks a very resistant Paul to try on the Griffin School uniform. Paul says to Denny, “Mom would never make me go to this school.” In exasperation, Denny blurts out, “If she cared so much about you, why’d she leave?”

It’s the type of comment that Denny immediately regrets saying, and he makes a sincere apology to Paul. Denny explains that the subject of Paul’s mother is a sore subject and he just doesn’t want to talk about her. He also asks Paul not to talk about her either.

Upstairs in his bedroom at night, Paul is feeling lonely and miserable. And so, he climbs out of his bedroom window, while still in the school uniform, and runs away from home. Paul goes directly to the carnival, where he meets the carnival’s sleazy owner Mr. Silk (played by John Turturro), who wears his long gray hair in a ponytail and has the demeanor of a con artist who can’t be trusted.

Paul asks Mr. Silk if he knows how to get to Pennsylvania. When Paul takes off his ski mask, Mr. Silk comments on Paul’s face: “Wow, that is some kind of beautiful.” Mr. Silk senses Paul’s vulnerability and figures out immediately that Paul is a runaway. He tells Paul that if Paul does a “partnership” with him, Paul can will make “enough money to get to Pennsylvania 10 times over.”

It should come as no surprise that Mr. Silk wants to exploit Paul by making him a “freak” sideshow act for the carnival. Paul is very reluctant to agree to being labeled as a Dangerous Dog Boy (which is the name that Mr. Silk gives him), but Paul eventually caves in to the pressure from Mr. Silk because Paul needs the money. Meanwhile, Denny has filed a missing-persons report about Paul with the local police, who send a cop named Officer Pollok (played by Michelle Wilson) to interview Denny and investigate Paul’s disappearance.

“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” screenplay has some glaring plot holes and flaws that lower the quality of the movie. For example, Paul (who has a very distinctive face that would make him stand out anywhere) is supposed to be missing for several days. And yet, the police don’t find out that boy who fits the exact description of Paul is working as a sideshow act at the carnival in town—the same carnival where Paul was last seen in public.

Not long after working at the carnival, Paul finds out that Mr. Silk is not going to pay him. And so, out of revenge, Paul steals some of the carnival’s cash and burns the carnival to the ground before running away again. It won’t be the last time that viewers will see of Mr. Silk, who decides he’s going to track down Paul. Now that Mr. Silk’s entire business has been destroyed in the fire, he’s got a lot of time on his hands.

The arson is also another reason why the police are looking for Paul, although the police’s shoddy investigation into his disappearance is why this movie’s story is able to stretch out for as long as it does. Immediately after the arson, Paul hides in a doghouse of a random stranger’s backyard.

When he wakes up the next morning, he sees a girl who’s wearing a swimming cap, playing in a ring tube filled with bubbles, and she’s singing like a mystical siren. The movie, which is introduced in chapters with title cards in a format similar to a 19th century European children’s book, calls this chapter “Wolfboy Meets a Mermaid.” The girl isn’t a real mermaid, but she often dresses as if she wants to be a mermaid.

The girl sees Paul come out of the doghouse and is so startled, that she screams and runs into her house. She can see him from a second-floor window, and Paul asks her for something to eat. She throws a sandwich out of the window to him. Shortly afterward, she decides to return to the backyard to talk to Paul.

She introduces herself as Aristiana (played Sophie Giannamore), and Paul immediately insults her by telling her that she has a stupid name. She retorts, “For the record, you’re trespassing,” He comments on her singing, “For the record, you sound like shit.” Aristiana responds by making a remark about Paul’s face, “Just because you look like that doesn’t give you permission to be a dick.”

If you’ve seen enough movies with this type of banter, you know exactly where Aristiana and Paul’s relationship is going to go. Aristiana and Paul end up running away together in his quest to find his mother. However, this isn’t a typical teen romance seen in movies, because it’s very casually mentioned at some point in the story that Aristiana is a transgender girl. Paul immediately accepts her as a girl, but there’s one point in the story when he gets angry at her and calls her a “boy.”

Does Paul end up finding his mother? (That question is answered in the movie’s trailer, but it won’t be spoiled in this review.) Will the police or Mr. Silk find Paul? And if so, who will find Paul first? Those questions are answered in rest of the movie, which includes some scenes of Aristiana taking Paul to a bar that’s a hangout for misfits.

The bar allows underage people to drink alcohol and smoke. It’s at this bar where for the first time, Paul sees Aristiana sing in front of an audience, and he’s awed by her. Paul later tells Aristiana that he didn’t mean what he said earlier when he told her that she wasn’t a good singer.

And it’s at this bar that Paul gets drunk for the first time. It’s also where Paul meets an acquaintance of Aristiana: a rebellious thief named Rose (played by Eve Hewson), who is in her 20s, has hot-pink hair, and wears an eyepatch. Rose ends up taking Paul and Aristiana on an armed robbery spree, which is briefly shown in the movie’s trailer.

“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” tries a little too hard to be whimsical and quirky, like it was going for the same tone as director Tim Burton’s 2003 film “Big Fish.” But at times, this effort for “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” to be unusual comes across as a bit too contrived and hollow. The performances from the film’s main cast members are what make watching the film worthwhile, because there are scenarios in this movie that have been done a lot better in other films. And there is indeed a “fairy tale” aspect to the story, since Paul doesn’t face any legal consequences from the crimes he commits.

Martell is a wonderfully talented actor who elevates the material that he’s been given in almost everything he does. His performance is by far the best thing about “The True Adventures of Wolfboy.” (Paul’s “wolf” look is achieved by some fairly impressive hair and makeup.) Giannamore is also a standout as the precocious Aristiana.

Turturro hams it up a little too much for him to be taken seriously as a villain. Mr. Silk has the ability to suddenly and unrealistically appear in places, which will make people wonder if he’s fully human or not. Messina’s Denny character shows hints of deep emotional pain, but Denny isn’t in the movie enough for viewers to really get a full picture of who he is. In other words, Messina’s talent is wasted in this film.

The character of Rose isn’t very well-written. Rose is essentially there because she has a car and she’s old enough to drive, thereby giving Paul and Aristiana a means to travel faster than if they were stuck taking public transportation. Rose introduces Paul and Aristiana to a life of armed robbery, but her character is so underdeveloped that she comes across as an unnecessary “third wheel” to Paul and Aristiana.

Krejcí’s direction makes “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” look better than much of the actual dialogue and the structure of the screenplay. The last 20 minutes of the movie are where it shines the most. Just like the hair all over Paul’s face can distract people from seeing his true character, so too does “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” have a lot of distracting clutter that people need to weed through to get to the heart of the story.

Vertical Releasing released “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” on digital and VOD on October 30, 2020.

Review: ‘The Secrets We Keep,’ starring Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina, Joel Kinnaman and Amy Seimetz

September 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joel Kinnaman and Noomi Rapace in “The Secrets We Keep” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“The Secrets We Keep”

Directed by Yuval Adler

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1959 in a fictional U.S. city called Spruce, the dramatic film “The Secrets That We Keep” features an all-white cast of characters (most of them are American, and a few are European immigrants) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Romanian immigrant living in America kidnaps a man she suspects was the German Nazi who brutally assaulted her and killed her sister during World War II.

Culture Audience: “The Secrets We Keep” will appeal primarily to people who like crime thrillers or stories about Holocaust survivors.

Chris Messina and Noomi Rapace in “The Secrets We Keep” (Photo by Patti Perret/Bleecker Street)

Getting revenge on a suspected World War II Nazi who’s changed his identity is a concept that’s been done before in movies such as 1998’s “Apt Pupil,” 2011’s “The Debt” (which was a British remake of the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov”) and 2016’s “Remember.” The competent but not particularly outstanding thriller “The Secrets We Keep” is another movie to add to the list. Directed by Yuval Adler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ryan Covington, “The Secrets We Keep” greatly benefits from the above-average acting from the main stars of the cast, because the movie’s plot wears very thin after a while.

In “The Secrets We Keep,” it’s 1959 in a U.S. suburban city named Spruce, where people live on quiet, tree-lined streets in middle-class neighborhoods. One of the city residents is Maja (played by Noomi Rapace), a Romanian immigrant who is married to a compassionate American doctor named Lewis (played by Chris Messina), whose patients include several workers at a local refinery. The refinery is one of the biggest employers in the city.

Maja and Lewis have a polite and adorable son named Patrick (played by Jackson Dean Vincent), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Lewis has a private practice, and Maja works part-time as an assistant in his office. They met when Lewis worked at a U.S. Army hospital in Greece in 1946, during the post-World War II Reconstruction.

It’s shown early on in the movie that Lewis is more open-hearted and trusting than Maja is. For example, during an appointment with disabled patient named Eddie (played by Frank Monteleone), who lost both of his legs in World War II, Lewis invites unmarried and childless Eddie over to have dinner sometime with Lewis and Maja. Later, while Maja and Lewis are having a private conversation in their home, Maja expresses discomfort over the dinner invitation.

Maja comments to Lewis about Eddie: “He doesn’t need your pity. You made him feel awkward.” Lewis replies, “No, I didn’t.” Maja, “Yes you did.” This back-and-forth continues for another minute or two, but it’s clear that Maja and Lewis have different ways of handling emotionally sensitive situations. This conflicting style causes much of the tension during what happens later in the story.

Lewis, Maja and Patrick have a tranquil and fairly uneventful life until Maja, just by chance, sees a man (played by Joel Kinnaman) whom she thinks she has encountered in the past. Maja sees him while she’s spending some time in a local park with Patrick. She intently stares at the stranger and starts to follow him until he gets into a car and drives away. The next time she sees this man, they are both in a locksmith store. This time, Maja follows the man all the way to his home and sees that he has a wife and two children: a daughter who’s about 5 or 6 years old and a baby boy.

Maja trespasses into their backyard and overhears him talking to his wife about his job at the refinery. He has a European accent and his wife is American. Maja is almost caught when the family’s dog start barking at her. The way that Maja looks at this man, it’s clear that she has a lot of animosity and suspicion toward him.

The next time Maja sees the man, it’s outside of the refinery, where she’s parked her car. She approaches him and tells him that she has car trouble and needs help. When he goes over to her car, she hits him on the head with a hammer and pushes him into the car trunk.

Maja then ties him up and drives to a shallow grave. When she opens the car trunk, she’s pointing a gun at the man’s head. He shouts something very quickly (which gives away something that happens toward the end of the film) and pleads for his life. “What do you want?” he frantically asks Maja.

It turns out that Maja thinks that this man is a German Nazi named Karl who, 15 years ago, murdered her sister and beat and raped Maja and left her for dead among some other murdered Romanians. The movie shows Maja’s memories of this vicious attack, which involved a group of Nazis, but Maja believes this man was the cruelest one in the group of attackers. The assaults and murders happened outside at night, but Maja says she will never forget Karl’s eyes.

The man whom Maja has abducted swears that he doesn’t know what Maja is talking about. He says he is a Swiss immigrant named Thomas and that he was never in Romania during the time that she described. Instead of shooting him and burying him in the shallow grave, Maja takes him home and tells a shocked Lewis what happened. It’s revealed later in the movie that Maja doesn’t want to kill this man until he confesses to the crimes she believes that he committed.

By bringing this kidnapped man into her home, Maja has to reveal to Lewis that she has a secret past as a Holocaust survivor. For the first time in her marriage, she also confesses to Lewis that she also lied about her family background. Instead of coming from a middle-class family, she actually came from a family of poor Gypsies. And she also tells Lewis for the first time that she was never an only child but she had a sister who was murdered.

Lewis’ first instinct is to call the police with the explanation that the kidnapping was a misunderstanding, but Maja persuades him not to do that because she says that the police will consider Lewis to be an accomplice in the kidnapping. Lewis reluctantly agrees to keep Joseph locked in their basement for one night. Of course, as soon as Lewis says this, viewers can easily guess that this kidnapping is going to last longer than one night.

The rest of the movie is a big guessing game: Is Thomas really who he says he is? How long can Lewis and Maja hold him captive in their basement without anyone finding out? And will Thomas try to escape? All of these questions are answered in the film, which has a lot of suspenseful scenes. But then, there are other scenes where the only suspense is when viewers have to suspend their disbelief at some of aspects of the story.

For example, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lot of what happens in the house during the kidnapping would be difficult to hide from an inquisitive child such as Patrick. Let’s just say that the basement isn’t 100% soundproof. The sounds of Maja torturing Thomas (which happens more than once in the movie) or Thomas being yelled at by his kidnappers result in some close calls with some people who don’t live in the home but go to the home to find out if anything out of the ordinary has been going on. But strangely and unrealistically, the child who lives in the house and would be able to hear these loud and disturbing noises never seems to hear anything.

And there’s a scene where Maja and Lewis foolishly forget to take their loaded gun with them when they leave Thomas alone in the basement. The gun is left right in plain view on a table within reach of Thomas. Even though he’s tied to a chair, he can still move his chair over to the table. And you can guess what might happen after that.

Maja also decides to try to befriend Thomas’ distraught wife Rachel (played by Amy Seimetz) and finds out that Rachel is Jewish. There’s also some information that comes out about Maja’s mental-health history that will make viewers wonder how credible her story is or if her mind is playing tricks on her. Lewis also does some investigating on his own to look into Thomas’ background.

“The Secrets We Keep” has some good acting by Rapace, Messina, Kinnaman and Seimetz. Rapace and Kinnaman also had solid performances when they co-starred together in the 2015 mystery thriller “Child 44,” another movie whose acting was better than the screenplay. However, parts of “The Secrets That We Keep” become repetitive with the “he said/she said” stalemate between Thomas and Maja.

On the plus side, some of the questionable aspects of the story can be explained. For example, it’s possible that a petite woman like Maja could overpower Thomas (who’s a tall man) if he’s injured. It’s also possible that a respected doctor and his wife wouldn’t fall under suspicion for Thomas’ disappearance, especially when there was no proof that Lewis and Maja had contact with Thomas before he disappeared. Maja took a big risk by kidnapping Thomas outside of his workplace, but this is in 1959, before video surveillance cameras existed.

For all of Maja’s explosive anger toward Thomas, she’s not as tough as she’d like to come across to the person she’s kidnapped. Her emotional vulnerability is apparent because it seems that it’s more important for her that Lewis believe that she’s not crazy rather than for her to immediately kill the man she keeps threatening to murder. The ending of “The Secrets We Keep” isn’t much of a shock. Although it’s a realistic conclusion (stranger things have happened in real life), it will probably leave a lot of viewers feeling emotionally disconnected from everyone in the story.

Bleecker Street released “The Secrets We Keep” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘She Dies Tomorrow,’ starring Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim and Josh Lucas

July 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Lyn Sheil in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“She Dies Tomorrow” 

Directed by Amy Seimetz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow” features a predominantly white cast (with one Asian person, one black person and one Latino person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman spreads her fear of dying to the people closest to her.

Culture Audience: “She Dies Tomorrow” will appeal primarily to people who have a high tolerance of incoherent movies that have vague endings.

Jane Adams and Josh Lucas in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

When a filmmaker makes a weird movie for the sake of being “unique” or “edgy,” what’s sometimes left out of the equation is ” interesting.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being weird, but when you create a story that is extremely boring, then people will feel like they wasted their time paying attention. Unfortunately, that is the end result of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s horrifically self-indulgent and mind-numbingly dull psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow.” The movie is only 84 minutes long, but it feels like longer.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing for this movie. “She Dies Tomorrow” is definitely not a horror film. Instead, it’s a mash-up of scenes showing a bunch of unhappy people in Los Angeles who keep predicting that they’re going to die tomorrow. There are some multi-colored (usually red, blue and green) strobe-light effects that fill the screen every time this feeling of impending doom overtakes each person.

But this spooky, almost hallucinogenic cinematography is not a sign that there’s some outside force from outer space or an evil spirit causing this morbid gloom and doom. In fact, there isn’t much of an explanation for anything that goes on in this story. In a nutshell: The movie is about people who become convinced that they’re going to “die tomorrow.” When they say this negative and morbid thought out loud to other people, that thought spreads to those other people like a virus.

It’s shown in the beginning of the film that the person who seems to have started the spread of this mental virus is a woman named Amy (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), who lives alone in her house in Los Angeles. Amy is depressed about something, so she gets drunk, and is overwhelmed with the feeling that she’s going to die tomorrow.

There are way too many shots of Amy stumbling around in a sequined dress and doing things like stroking the panels on her hardwood floors and looking at random things on her laptop computer. One of the things she looks at online is a set of leather jackets for sale. And she also inexplicably goes in her backyard to set some paper on fire. (It’s never revealed what was on the paper and why she wanted to burn it.)

Amy’s middle-aged friend Jane (played by Jane Adams) comes over and sees Amy in this pathetic state. Amy is so drunk that she says to Jane, “I wonder if I could be made into a leather jacket.” And then she says the fateful words to Jane: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

Jane replies that Amy will definitely die if Amy continues to relapse. Amy then repeats her macabre prediction: “I’m going to die tomorrow.” Jane tells Amy that she won’t, but Amy insists that she will. They go back and forth with this argument for a minute or two.

After a few more random and nonsensical scenes that include Amy waking up as if she just had a nightmare, Jane is shown walking zombie-like into a party at the house of her brother Jason (played by Chris Messina) and Jason’s wife Susan (played by Katie Aselton). It’s a small, low-key gathering to celebrate Susan’s birthday.

The only other guests there are a younger couple named Brian (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (played by Jennifer Kim), who have very different demeanors at the party. Tilly makes an effort to be talkative and outgoing, while Brian is mostly silent and looks uncomfortable.

Jane’s sudden arrival surprises the people at the party, because she had apparently told Jason and Susan that she wasn’t going to attend. Not only has Jane somewhat crashed the party, but she’s acting spaced-out and melancholy, which ruins the party’s previously upbeat atmosphere. Almost everyone’s been drinking alcohol at the party, where Jane utters the fateful words: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

There really isn’t much left to the story, except that Jane ends up in a doctor’s office, where the doctor (played by Josh Lucas) immediately thinks that something is psychologically wrong with Jane. Meanwhile, this “mental virus” spreads to Jason and Susan, who traumatize their teenage daughter Madison (played by Madison Calderon) when they both tell her that they’re going to die tomorrow.

There are also nonlinear flashback scenes of Amy and her relationship with a guy around her age named Craig (played by Kentucker Audley), who apparently started as someone who might have been looking to rent a room, because in one of the flashbacks, Amy gives Craig a tour of the house, as if he’s a potential renter. But somehow Amy and Craig ended up becoming lovers—there are no sex scenes in the movie, but it’s shown they had an intimate relationship.

However, this relationship didn’t last. Amy and Craig broke up, and Craig took the breakup very badly. The beginning of the film shows him having a meltdown in the living room where he shouts, “It’s over! … There’s no tomorrow!” And then there’s a scene later in the film of Craig lying dead on a house floor with a gun nearby. It’s left up to viewers to interpret what happened to Craig.

There’s also a bizarre cameo scene in a swimming pool of a woman named Skye (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and a woman named Erin (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), where Skye says, “Hi, I’m Skye. I’m dying.” Erin replies, “I’m Erin. I’m dying too.” And then the swimming pool starts to become filled with blood. Erin says, “I think I’m on my period.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

In the production notes for “She Dies Tomorrow,” writer/director Seimetz explains what inspired the movie: “I was dealing with my own personal anxiety and found I was spreading my panic to other people by talking about it perhaps too excessively—while simultaneously watching a ton of news and watching mass anxiety spreading on the right and left politically. All this while remembering losing my father and many friends, that we all die at some point. We don’t know what to do but keep living, realizing the absurdity and tragedy that ‘with life comes death.’”

If the purpose of “She Dies Tomorrow” is to make viewers feel like they’re stuck watching miserable people who want their lives to end, while you can’t wait for this rambling and messy movie to end, then it succeeds in that goal.

Neon released “She Dies Tomorrow” in select U.S. cinemas on July 31, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is August 7, 2020.

Review: ‘Birds of Prey,’ starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco and Ewan McGregor

February 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Bosco and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in “Birds of Prey” (Photo by Claudette Barius/© DC Comics)

“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)”

Directed by Cathy Yan

Culture Representation: Set in the fictional DC Comics city of Gotham, “Birds of Prey” has a racially diverse, female-centric cast of characters, ranging from heroes to villains.

Culture Clash: Harley Quinn, the story’s narrator and central character, is a supervillain who’s sometimes an ally of the heroic characters—and those ethical blurred lines can cause conflicts.

Culture Audience: “Birds of Prey” will appeal primarily to fans of comic-book-inspired movies if they are willing to tolerate this film’s preference for flashy visuals over a compelling story.

Margot Robbie, Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor in “Birds of Prey” (Photo by Claudette Barius/© DC Comics)

“Birds of Prey” is a wildly uneven action film that’s as unstable and wacky as its central character and narratorthe supervillain antihero Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), who’s stepping out of the shadow of her ex-boyfriend Joker to inflict her own brand of over-the-top mayhem. Even though the movie is called “Birds of Prey,” based on DC Comics’ all-female group of superhero crimebusters, make no mistake: Harley Quinn is the real star of the show. A more accurate title for this movie should have been “Harley Quinn Featuring Birds of Prey.”

Australian actress Robbie (who’s one of the movie’s producers and who dons a Brooklyn-ish accent for Harley) first appeared as scene-stealing Harley Quinn in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” It was inevitable that Harley Quinn would get her own movie, but Robbie performs in this film as if it’s a slapstick comedy, while the other actors take their roles in the more serious direction that almost all the other DC Comics-based movies have.

It’s that erratic tone to “Birds of Prey” that will be off-putting to comic-book purists who have been frustrated with how DC Comics-based feature films have inconsistently portrayed Gotham, which is the city of Batman, Joker, Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad. Is Gotham the dark and pessimistic world that’s on the verge of imploding from its own corruption, as seen in Christopher Nolan’s and Zack Snyder’s “Batman” movies and Todd Phillips’ “Joker”? Or is Gotham the spooky retro-noir environment of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies? Or is it the sewage-and-chemical-infested toxic dump of “Suicide Squad”?

In “Birds of Prey,” Gotham is none of those things. It’s basically a nihilistic playground for Harley and the movie’s chief villain, the flamboyantly malicious Roman Sionis (played by Ewan McGregor, who gives the campiest performance of his career so far), a nightclub owner who wants revenge on Harley at the same time that he wants power over her. Roman, who’s also known as Black Mask, has a thing for torturing people by cutting off masks of flesh from their faces.

“Birds of Prey” is the second feature film from director Cathy Yan, who previously helmed the little-seen, independent dark comedy “Dead Pigs,” which was a critical hit when it had its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival but failed to get a distributor. It’s extremely rare for a director to go from a micro-budget indie for a debut movie and then get the opportunity to direct a major-studio franchise film with a blockbuster budget. And perhaps that relative lack of directing experience was a hindrance, because “Birds of Prey” has some shockingly bad continuity problems.

For example, at the beginning of a scene where Harley Quinn ends up getting chased through the streets of Gotham by determined cop Renee Montoya (played by Rosie Perez), Harley is wearing mismatched shoes: one rainbow-colored shoe with a flat heel and one light-colored shoe with a high heel. But by the end of the chase scene, Harley is wearing matching shoes: the rainbow-covered, flat-heeled shoes. A few minutes after that scene, Renee goes back to the police station with pieces of garbage in her hair and on her clothes, due to the messy chase after Harley, but in cutaway shots, the garbage that was seen in her hair just seconds earlier is now missing.

The screenplay by Christina Hodson is also fairly problematic. For starters, the story has Harley Quinn feuding with too many people. There’s Harley Quinn vs. Roman Sionis. There’s Harley Quinn vs. Renee Montoya, one of the Birds of Prey. There’s Harley Quinn vs. Cassandra Cain, the young thief who has a rare diamond that Roman wants, so Harley basically has to kidnap Cassandra to get it. (Cassandra is played by Ella Jay Bosco, in her film debut, who spends most of the movie looking shocked and scared.)

And at different points in the movie, Harley is also at odds with two of the other Birds of Prey: Dinah Lance (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell), also known as Black Canary, a singer at Roman’s nightclub, as well as Helena Bertinelli (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), also known as Huntress, a crossbow-slinging assassin who has a mysterious past that’s revealed in the movie to also be connected to the diamond. Black Canary doesn’t start off as a hero in the movie, since her loyalties flip-flop under pressure from her boss Roman. As for Huntress, she spends most of the film as an aloof loner who’s also caught up in finding the diamond.

About that search for the diamond: It’s got to be one of the worst ideas in recent years for the main conflict in a comic-book movie. Roman wants the diamond because it supposedly will give him the power to bribe people to do what he wants. Therefore, he kidnaps Harley and forces her to get the diamond for him. It doesn’t make much sense, but neither does most of this erratic movie, which includes a random musical sequence inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” And where the diamond ends up being hidden is like something out of an Adam Sandler movie that’s fixated on bodily functions.

Although there are some comical moments in “Birds of Prey,” other attempts at humor fall very flat. The film relies too much on flashbacks told from Harley’s point of view, and she’s not exactly a reliable or coherent narrator. The movie’s violence and stunts are very cartoonish, but the action sequences are nevertheless the best parts of the film. If you can suspend your disbelief that Harley can take down five to eight muscle-bound, usually armed men at once, just by doing a bunch of gravity-defying cartwheels, flips and spins and by swinging her baseball bat, then you’ll have fun watching this kind of spectacle. Harley even manages to mow down several bad guys while she’s wearing roller skates, thanks to her experiences playing roller derby, which is shown at the beginning of the movie.

What’s less fun is watching moments of pure tedium and ridiculousness when the characters stand around and talk in the middle of major physical showdowns with their opponents. People of “Birds of Prey”: Take a cue from John Wick. He’s not going to suddenly strike up a conversation in the middle of kicking someone’s ass.

And there are a few things that are introduced in the “Birds of Prey” movie that are underused story ideas. For example, Harley gets a hyena named Bruce (named after Bruce Wayne), but the canine is nothing more than a pet that’s left at her home and brought out for Harley to show off to visitors. In the comic books, Harley has two hyenas that have much more active roles in her adventures. Black Canary also has a special power which she could have used much earlier in the film, but she doesn’t use it until it’s almost too late.

“Birds of Prey” might look like a feel-good feminist film on the surface, but there’s a lot of mean-spirited cattiness among the women for most of the movie. They don’t join forces until almost the very end, when the movie has its best action sequence. It’s a little bit of a slog to get to that point, and the movie would have been a lot better if Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey really were a team much earlier in the story.

And although the movie has a message of female empowerment, it shouldn’t be at the expense of making almost all the men in the film to be insufferable jerks and/or criminals. And there are some cringeworthy lines in the film, such as when Harley utters, “Nothing gets a guy’s attention like violence.” All of this male-bashing is just so unnecessary. Making almost all of the men look bad in this movie is also a turnoff to people who like to see a well-rounded variety of characters of any gender.

If you’re a die-hard fan of comic-book-based movies and if you have to see “Birds of Prey,” just know in advance that although it tries very hard to capture the type of irreverent adult humor that the first “Deadpool” movie had, “Birds of Prey” is really just a female-led diamond heist movie. We already had “Ocean’s 8,” thank you very much.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” on February 7, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has moved up the digital release of “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” to March 24, 2020.