Review: ‘Dune: Part Two,’ starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken and Javier Bardem

February 21, 2024

by Carla Hay

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in “Dune: Part Two” (Photo by Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Dune: Part Two”

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Culture Representation: Taking place in the year 10,191, on the fictional planets of Giedi Prime and Arrakis, the sci-fi action film “Dune” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: House Atreides royal leaders Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica, who are refugees from their planet Caladan, get suspicion from and ultimately join forces with the native Fremen people of Arrakis, to battle against House Atreides rivals in House Harkonnen from the planet of Giedi Prime.

Culture Audience: “Dune: Part Two” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Dune” novel and to people who like epic sci-fi adventures with stunning visuals and good acting.

Austin Butler and Léa Seydoux in “Dune: Part Two” (Photo by Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Dune: Part Two” is a masterful technical achievement that surpasses its predecessor movie on a storytelling level. It’s less cluttered with characters than 2021’s “Dune” and has a more compelling villain and higher emotional stakes. Fans of the the “Dune” franchise will have their expectations met or surpassed with “Dune: Part Two,” a sci-fi epic worth seeing on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system possible.

Directed by Denis Villenueve, “Dune: Part Two” (co-written by Villenueve and Jon Spaihts) is the second part of Villenueve’s movie triology adaptation of Paul Herbert’s densely packed 1965 novel “Dune.” (Villenueve’s “Dune” adaptations are far superior to 1984’s disastrously awful “Dune” movie, directed by David Lynch.) The first part of Villenueve’s “Dune” movie, released in 2021, was an introduction to the main characters and had a lot to do with showing the combat training and the rise of main “Dune” hero Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet), a royal leader from House Atreides.

Is it necessary to know about the “Dune” book and/or know what happened 2021’s “Dune” to completely enjoy “Dune: Part Two”? Yes. There are many references to 2021’s “Dune” in “Dune: Part Two” that will be confusing to viewers who don’t know what happened in 2021’s “Dune.” Viewers who watch “Dune: Part Two” who don’t know anything about the “Dune” story can still enjoy “Dune: Part Two,” but they will feel like they’ve started reading a book from the middle, not from the beginning.

In “Dune: Part Two” (which takes place in the year 10,191), Paul and his mother Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson), who is pregnant with a daughter, are refugees from their home planet Caladan, which has been devastated by a genocidal attack from House Harkonnen. The attack killed Paul’s father/Jessica’s live-in partner Leto Atreides (played by Oscar Isaac), a duke who passed on his legacy to Paul before Leto died. Leto was ordered to be the fief ruler of Arrakis, a desert planet with harsh terrain that is the only place to find a priceless treasure: melange, also known as spice, a dusty substance that can enhance and extend human life.

Because spice is the most sought-after substance in the universe and can make people wealthy, people will go to extremes to get it and to be in charge of Arrakis, whose native people are called Fremen. Prolonged exposure to spice can turn humans’ eyes blue in the iris. Harvesting spice can be a deadly activity because gigantic sandworms ferociously guard the spice. “Dune: Part Two” begins with this caption: “Power over spice is power over all.”

House Atreides and House Harkonnen have been in a bitter rivalry over getting control of spice. House Harkonnen was behind the attack that killed Leto and several of his people. The evil leader of House Harkonnen is a baron named Vladimir Harkonnen (played by Stellan Skarsgård), an obese and ruthless tyrant, who likes to spending time in saunas filled with a tar-like substance. Vladimir’s closest henchman is his sadistic nephew Glossu Rabban (played by Dave Bautista), who doesn’t hestitate to kill anyone for any reason.

The person who orderd Leto to rule over Arrakis was his adoptive cousin: Padishah Emperor of House Carrino named Shaddam Corrino IV (played by Christopher Walken), who was not seen in 2021’s “Dune,” but he has a prominent role in “Dune: Part Two.” In the beginning of “Dune: Part Two,” Shaddam’s daughter Princess Irulan (played by Florence Pugh) can be heard in a voiceover commenting on the night of the House Atreides massacre: “Since that night, my father hasn’t been the same.”

Why? It’s because Shaddam set up Leto as ruler of Arrakis, knowing that House Harkonnen wold respond with a brutal attack on House Atreides. This betrayal (which isn’t spoliler information) becomes a layer in the conficts that exist in “Dune: Part Two.” There is also a big family secret that is revealed that has to do with House Atreides and House Harkonnen.

Meanwhile, Paul and Jessica have made their way to Arrakis, with the help of Stilgar (played by Javier Bardem), the leader of the Fremen tribe called Sietch Tabr. Stilgar is the translator, and negotiator when the Fremens become suspicious of the arrival of Paul and Jessica, who ar ebelieved by many Fremens to be spies. Stilgar, who is convinced that Paul is the messiah from a prophecy, is often the movie’s comic relief in how he how tries to convince his skeptical Fremen people to trust Paul and Jessica and to believe that Paul is the messiah.

In 2021’s “Dune,” Paul met an independent and outspoken young Freman woman named  Chani (played by Zendaya), who kept appearing in his dreams before he met her. In “Dune: Part Two,” Paul and Chani develop a romance that heats up quickly, as Chani teaches Paul how he can better navigate avoiding sand worms while walking in the desert. (“You sand walk like a drunk lizard,” she chastises Paul.) Before the movie is half over, Paul and Chani are kissing each other, and he declares his love for her. None of this is spoiler informaton, since this love affair is part of the marketing of “Dune: Part Two.”

However, the relationship between Paul and Chani doesn’t happen without problems. There’s the difference in their social classes: Chani is more uncomfortable with Paul is about the fact that he’s a royal and she’s a commoner. Chani also has to spend a lot of time defending Paul to Fremen skeptics, such as her close friend Shishakli (played by Souheila Yacoub), who is a perceptive and brave fighter. All of the female supporting characters in “Dune” are capable but obviously not meant to outshine Chani.

Meanwhile, House Harkonnen has heard stories that Paul and Jessica are still alive. And you know what that means: There’s going to be another big showdown. And guess who conveniently shows up? Paul’s no-nonsense mentor Gurney Halleck (played by Josh Brolin), who was one of the teahcers in Paul’s fight training. Gurney is still loyal and mostly stoic. He doesn’t really become a father figure to Paul, but Gurney the closest male connection that Paul has to Leto, since Gurney and Leto knew and respected each other.

For the big showdown in “Dune: Part Two,” House Harkonnen has enlisted the help of a vicious killer named Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (played by Austin Butler), Vladimir’s nephew whose weapon of choice is a massive knife. A seductive psychic spy named Lady Margot Fenring (played by Léa Seydoux) has a plan to seduce and get pregnant by Feyd-Rautha, for reasons that are explained in the movie. She also does this seduction to find out what Feyd-Rautha’s weaknesses are.

The 2021 version of “Dune” was nominated for 10 Oscars and won six Oscars: Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Production Design, Best Sound, Best Original Score and Best Visual Effects. Without question, “Dune: Part Two” is also award-worthy in these categories as well. Everything in “Dune: Part Two” is done on a grand, immersive scale that are stellar examples of excellence in cinematic world building of a fictional universe. “Dune: Part Two” (which was filmed in Hungary, Abu Dhabi, and Jordan) has scenes taking place in the sand that are truly unforgettable.

As for the relationships between the characters, Paul sees a more vulnerable side to his mother Jessica, when she is pressured into becoming a reverend mother, which is a responsibility with physical and emotional burdens that Jessica is reluctant to have. In the first half of the movie, Jessica shows her powerful fight skills, but after she transforms into a reverend mother, Jessica ctually becomes passive, as she sits by and watches other people fight. Reverend Mother Mohiam (played by Charlotte Rampling), who was in 2021’s “Dune,” has a more scheming side that is revealed in “Dune: Part Two.”

“Dune: Part Two” might have more appeal than 2021’s “Dune” for people who want to see the romance of Paul and Chani that didn’t exist in 2021’s “Dune.” This romance is very chaste, with a “first love” tone to it. The “Dune” trailers already revealed much of the dynamics in this romance, where Paul respects Chani and wants to treat her as his equal. However, will Paul’s royal lineage and duties get in the way of this budding romance?

Chalamet and Zendaya are quite good in their roles as Paul and Chani, but nothing about their performances is worthy of prestigious awards. Paul is depicted as a sensitive and somewhat tortured hero. He tells Chan that he keeps having nightmares of thousands of people dying of starvation because of him. Chani is kind of a stereotypical “tough woman in an action film” who wants to act like she doesn’t fall in love easily, but of course she does just that with Paul.

A characteristic of an above-average sci-fi/fantasy film is the portrayal of the chief villain or villains. Skarsgård as Vladimir Harkonnen and Bautista as Glossu Rabban have less screen time in “Dune: Part Two” than they did in 2021’s “Dune” and don’t really do anything new with their performances. Butler as Feyd-Rautha is the “Dune: Part Two” villain who is the obvious standout, since it’s already been revealed in the movie’s trailers that the climactic battle scene includes a one-on-one fight with Paul. “Dune: Part Two” lacks susbtance by not telling more about Feyd-Rautha’s background. He’s an enigma for the entire movie.

“Dune: Part Two” will no doubt have multiple viewings from fans of the franchise. As for winning over new fans, the movie has a tone that seems to be saying, “You either understand what you’re watching , or you dont. And we don’t have time to explain it all to you.” If you’re unfamiliar with the “Dune” franchise, and you’re the type of person who doesn’t like the idea of dong homework-like research before seeing a sc-fi movie that has a complex story, then “Dune: Part Two” probably isn’t for you. For everyone else, “Dune: Part Two” will fill up your senses with an absorbing story whose cliffhanger ending hints at how this excellent cinematic adaptation continues.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Dune: Part Two” in outside the U.S. on February 28, 2024, and in U.S. cinemas on March 1, 2024.

Review: ‘Wild Mountain Thyme,’ starring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken

December 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt in “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

“Wild Mountain Thyme”

Directed by John Patrick Shanley 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and in New York City, the romantic drama “Wild Mountain Thyme” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two oddball Irish farmers—one female and one male—have very different views of love and marriage, while the male famer’s rich American businessman cousin might be part of a love triangle for this would-be couple.

Culture Audience: “Wild Mountain Thyme” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching romantic movies that are pretentious and ridiculous.

Jon Hamm, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken in “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

The production notes for “Wild Mountain Thyme” describe the movie as a “comedic, moving and wildly romantic tale.” Comedic? The reality is that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a drama with a lot of unintentionally so-bad-it’s-funny moments. Moving? This painfully dull movie doesn’t pour on the sentimental sap until the last 15 minutes of the film—and it does so in the corniest way possible. Wildly romantic? The characters in “Wild Mountain Thyme” are so dysfunctional and/or emotionally repressed that there’s almost no passionate romance in the film, and the characters spend most of the movie bickering about land ownership and who’s a legitimate farmer.

“Wild Mountain Thyme,” which takes place mostly in Ireland and partially in New York City, was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who adapted the movie from his 2014 Broadway play “Outside Mullingar.” Even though Shanley has won an Oscar (for writing 1987’s “Moonstruck”) and a Tony and a Pulitzer (for the play “Doubt: A Parable”), those prestigious awards don’t mean that someone is incapable of making an embarrassing stinker. “Wild Mountain Thyme” is an overly verbose story that ultimately doesn’t have much to say and should have remained on the stage, where pretentiously worded dialogue is expected and therefore much more palatable than it is for a movie audience.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” (which was filmed primarily in Mayo County, Ireland) gets its name because there are scenes in the movie where people sing “Wild Mountain Thyme” in a pub. The cinematic version of the story also greatly benefits from showcasing the lush and gorgeous landscape of rural Ireland. There’s no denying that the film’s cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt is one of the movie’s few high points.

But right from the start, the tone of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is off-kilter, by having a dead character as the movie’s intermittent guide/storyteller. There’s voiceover narration from Irish farmer Tony Reilly (played by Christopher Walken, doing his usual eccentric schtick) explaining how the would-be couple at the center of the story first came to know each other. Tony announces at the beginning of the narration that he’s dead, so people will know that they’re supposed to be hearing the voice of a ghost. Very morbid.

Tony says, “They say if an Irish man dies while telling a story, you can rest assured, he’ll be back.” This movie is so unimaginative that, sure enough, toward the end of the film, Tony’s voice comes back into the narration to repeat the same line. The narration is really unnecessary because Tony doesn’t provide any insight that isn’t already presented in the movie characters’ actions.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” producer Martina Nilan is quoted in the movie’s production notes as saying that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is “a timeless fable with a heightened fairy-tale tone.” However, the movie isn’t timeless and actually is very outdated with its old-fashioned views of strict gender roles for men and women when it comes to love and romance. Based on what the “Wild Mountain Thyme” characters say and how they act, they believe that women’s ultimate goal in life should be to get married and have children, and women have to wait until men make the first move in a courtship.

The movie also has the sexist notion that women who’ve never been married by a certain age have to be desperate to get married. “Wild Mountain Thyme” also pushes a narrative that a woman isn’t considered a “real woman” unless she wants to become a mother or is a mother. Meanwhile, men who’ve never been married and have no kids by a certain age might be considered “strange,” but they don’t have to be desperate to find a spouse.

It’s this moldy concept that stinks up the “will they or won’t they” relationship of Rosemary Muldoon (played by Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (played by Jamie Dornan), two Irish farmers who embody the old-fashioned stereotypes of what usually happens in romantic dramas: The woman wants to be romanced by the man and be in a committed relationship with him that leads to marriage, while the man spends almost the entire story resisting. In other words, the man always has the “upper hand,” because he’s the one who decides if there will be a romantic relationship or not.

The movie sticks to this formula like patriarchal glue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a story about falling in love and wanting to get married and have kids. But the way this story is told in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is extremely off-putting because the filmmakers want to pretend that it’s a feminist movie, when it’s just the opposite. For almost the entire movie, Rosemary mopes around and sulks because she’s waiting for Anthony to show a sign that he wants more than a platonic relationship.

As Anthony’s dead father Tony explains in the narration, Rosemary has been in love with Anthony since they were both 10 years old. (In flashbacks, Abigail Coburn plays a young Rosemary, while Darragh O’Kane plays a young Anthony.) The Reilly family and Muldoon family are farmers who live right next door to each other in rural Ireland, so the kids grew up knowing nothing but life on a farm.

The adult Rosemary and Anthony in this story are now in their late 30s. Because of Tony’s ghostly narration, this entire story is a flashback. Tony’s death and funeral are eventually shown in the movie.

The Muldoon family owns a strip of land that overlaps into the entrance of the Reilly family’s home. Tony tries in vain to get the Muldoon family to sell that strip of land to him. The questions over who owns this strip of land and who will inherit the entire Reilly family property are sources of contention throughout the story.

Anthony’s widower father Tony wants Anthony to inherit the farm. However, Tony is having doubts about his son’s ability to handle the responsibility because Anthony is an emotionally immature loner who doesn’t seem very smart about the business side of running the farm. Tony also disapproves of Anthony not showing any interest in getting married and having kids, while Anthony is extremely unwilling to become a husband and father. In fact, Anthony shows no interest in having a committed relationship with anyone.

What’s odd is that later in the story, Tony mentions Anthony’s two other siblings: Trish and Audrey, who are never seen or heard in the film. It’s implied that these two sisters are still alive somewhere. But because the movie has a sexist tone to it, these female characters are easily dismissed and never mentioned again, as if Anthony is the only rightful heir in the family.

Tony’s wife Mary (played by Clare Barrett), who died when the children were young, is also sidelined. She’s only seen briefly in flashbacks, where she’s cheerfully singing or cooking in the kitchen by herself, with no lines of dialogue. Considering this film’s sexist attitude about women only existing to be wives and mothers, it’s no wonder that Mary is only seen in the kitchen.

At one point in the movie, Tony admits to Anthony that he married Mary out of loneliness, not out of love, but that Tony eventually came to appreciate his wife, who was the one who pushed for them to get married in the first place. It’s an obvious parallel to what’s going on with Rosemary and Anthony. The only time that Anthony mentions his mother is when he tells Rosemary: “When my mother died, I couldn’t see colors anymore.” Cue the violins.

Rosemary is an only child who lives with her widowed and very opinionated mother Aoife (played by Dearbhla Molloy), who also wants Rosemary to get married and start her own family. But Rosemary is pining over an emotionally stunted Anthony, because she thinks he’s “the one.” Aoife (who affectionally calls Rosemary “mad,” as in crazy) also thinks that Anthony is a good match for Rosemary, but you get the impression that Aofie mainly wants to see Rosemary become a wife and mother to any suitable man who might come along.

Rosemary won’t come right out and tell Anthony that she has romantic feelings for him because she expects him to do the “manly” thing and make the first move and ask her out on a date. When Anthony tells her that he’ll never get married, she says that she doesn’t believe him. Rosemary even tells Anthony that she will have her eggs frozen if necessary, until he comes around to the idea of being her husband and the father of her children. But Anthony just acts confused and slightly repulsed (apparently he’s ignorant about modern fertility treatments) and tries to ignore Rosemary’s desperation.

In a flashback to Rosemary’s childhood as a 10-year-old, she’s doing what she usually does in this movie: pouting and obsessing over Anthony. Her father Chris (played by Don Wycherley) notices Rosemary sulking at the kitchen table. She tells her father in a depressed voice: “I’m just a girl. The world is full of girls.”

Her father responds by saying, “You’re not just a girl … You’re a queen … You are the white swan … It means no one can top you. The world is yours. You can do anything.”

Because of this little pep talk, Rosemary becomes fascinated with the ballet “Swan Lake.” There are several references to “Swan Lake” throughout the movie. And these “Swan Lake” references are as cloying and sappy as you might think they are.

In the beginning of the movie, which jumps around in flashbacks throughout the film, Chris has died, so viewers don’t really get to see the relationship that Rosemary had with Chris when she was an adult. However, Rosemary is very close to her mother, who can often get on Rosemary’s nerves with nagging about Rosemary being a spinster. However, no one puts more pressure on Rosemary to become a wife and mother than Rosemary herself.

There’s also a hint that Tony has been attracted to Aofie for quite some time, but he didn’t act on that attraction because she was married. Not long after Chris’ funeral, Tony doesn’t waste time in flirting with Aofie and making it clear that he’d like to get to know her better if she’s interested. Thankfully, that potentially awkward storyline goes nowhere.

After Chris’ death, Rosemary has fully taken over the Muldoon farm’s operations. Of course, the movie doesn’t actually show her doing much dirty work on the farm, since the filmmakers want to confine Rosemary in the stereotypical role of woman who’s mainly concerned with getting an uninterested man to be her husband. There are some scenes with some adorable animals though, with the predictable cute “reaction” shots of an expressive pet dog who seems to know what the humans are saying and has the head tilt and emotional eyes to prove it.

In the ghostly narration, Tony describes Rosemary as being “besotted with love,” which will make viewers wonder if Rosemary’s obsession with Anthony is true love or if she’s just in love with the idea of being married and having her own family. The filmmakers try to make Rosemary look like a moody, tobacco-smoking feminist (she smokes cigarettes and pipes), but she’s really just a run-of-the-mill “damsel in distress” who’s waiting around for a sour and grumpy Anthony to rescue her from her loneliness.

In addition to the cliché of a desperate woman longing for an emotionally unavailable man, “Wild Mountain Thyme” has another over-used cliché in movies about romance: the possibility of a love triangle. It starts from Rosemary and Anthony’s childhood, when there are a few brief scenes of a character named Fiona (played by Anna Weekes), whom Rosemary sees as a threat for Anthony’s affections. It’s mentioned that in her childhood, Rosemary even got into a physical fight with Fiona, by pushing her down. The adults didn’t do much about it but give Rosemary a mild scolding.

However, just like all the female characters with supporting roles in the movie, Fiona only seems to be there for filler and not to further the story in any way. When Anthony and Rosemary are adults, there is a brief reference to Fiona when Anthony mentions to Rosemary that he saw Fiona by chance somewhere and he had brief conversation with her. (Anthony and Fiona’s conversation is never shown in the movie.) Rosemary gets visibly jealous when she hears that Anthony and Fiona were in contact with each other.

There’s a brief scene that shows Anthony is interested in dating women when he has a drunken encounter with a pretty but scruffy blonde named Eleanor (played by Lydia McGuinness), who’s got spiky and messy hair styled like the ’80s female pop trio Bananarama. Anthony and Eleanor meet in a pub, get drunk together, and hang out on a ledge, where she confesses some sordid sexual secrets to him. She’s so tipsy that she loses her balance and falls off of the ledge. Eleanor is never seen again in the movie.

The main love triangle in the story is between Anthony, Rosemary and Adam (played by Jon Hamm), who is the American son of Tony’s brother. Adam is a single, successful money manager in New York City, because apparently the “Wild Mountain Thyme” filmmakers want to shut out any possibility that there are plenty of eligible bachelors in Ireland who could catch Rosemary’s fancy. Adam, who is very brash and confident, loves to flaunt his wealth. And by his own admission, Adam relishes being the center of attention.

Because Tony has doubts about Anthony’s ability to take care of the farm, he tells Anthony that he’s contemplating having Adam inherit the farm, even though Adam has no experience in farming. However, Tony is impressed with Adam’s business skills and he thinks the farm has a better chance of thriving if Adam took over the operations.

And so, Adam is invited to Ireland to look over the farm. Adam thinks of himself as someone who can easily be a farmer, because it’s something that he’s been fantasizing about for a while. However, it’s clear as soon as Adam comes to visit, he’s really a city dweller at heart. He wants to own the farm, not be an actual farmer.

Because he’s a showoff, Adam drives up to the farm one day in a silver Rolls Royce, which greatly impresses Tony. Meanwhile, Anthony is naturally feeling overshadowed and unappreciated when Adam is around. Anthony makes a point of telling Adam that he’s not a real farmer. The business-minded Adam is appalled that Anthony and Rosemary don’t know how many acres of farm land that they have.

It isn’t long before Adam shows that he’s attracted to Rosemary. The feeling isn’t really mutual, but Rosemary likes the attention, which is something that she doesn’t get from Anthony. Whereas Anthony can’t even be bothered to go over to the Muldoon house to visit Rosemary (even though she lives next door), Adam eagerly invites Rosemary to visit New York City, within a few hours of meeting her. Rosemary tells Adam that she’d love to go to the theater in New York. And this is the point in the movie where viewers can predict that if Rosemary does ever go to visit Adam in New York, you know exactly which stage production she’ll want to see.

Meanwhile, whenever Anthony gets irritated with Rosemary (which is often), he tells her that she should think about selling the farm and that she should leave Ireland. She usually replies in a huff that maybe she will leave. But she’s not fooling anyone. Rosemary is too obsessed with Anthony to leave.

Anthony occasionally mentions that he’s thinking about leaving farm life behind too. At one point, he makes a very un-patriotic comment about Ireland: “It’s a terrible place for a decent person.” Anthony, who keeps telling people that he thinks he’s “mad” (as in mentally ill), is also somewhat of a social outcast in the community.

Anthony’s oddball reputation is further fueled after an incident when a neighbor named Cleary (played by Barry McGovern) sees Anthony practicing a marriage proposal in a field. Anthony is rehearsing this proposal because he’s starting to wonder if maybe he should marry someone someday. Anthony thinks the only witness to his “marriage proposal rehearsals” is a donkey in the field.

But the nosy neighbor sees Anthony and wrongly assumes that Anthony is proposing marriage to the donkey. He tells other local people about what he saw, and soon Anthony becomes part of a community joke that Anthony might be into bestiality. Although this notion about Anthony is far-fetched, it at least accurately demonstrates how quickly gossip can spread in a small town.

When Rosemary asks Anthony why he won’t leave the farm, he replies: “These green fields and the animals living off them. And then there’s us living off of the animals. And over that, that what tends to us, lives off us maybe. Whatever that is, it holds me here.” This is the type of eye-rolling dialogue that’s littered throughout the movie.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” has scene after scene that’s supposed to be “deep philosophy from Irish farmers who look like movie stars,” but it all just sounds like nonsensical crap. For example, Rosemary asks Anthony: “How many days do we have until the sun shines?” Anthony replies, “It’s not shining.” Rosemary then says, “I believe that it is.” Obviously, this is a not-so-subtle reference to Rosemary’s optimism about love and Anthony’s pessimism. And only in a badly written entertainment project do farmers really talk like that.

One of the worst things about “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that it pushes a narrative that a romantic person who’s desperate to be in love, just by sheer force of will and being persistent, can “change” a person who resists the romantic person’s amorous intentions and the romantic can “make” that person fall in love with them. But “Wild Mountain Thyme” can’t even push this narrative in a clever way. It’s an unhealthy approach to relationships because true love is accepting people for who they are, not trying to change them to fit someone else’s fantasies.

One of the most cringeworthy scenes in the movie is when Rosemary and Anthony have an argument after she tells him about an encounter that she had with Adam where Adam made it very clear that Adam is interested in dating Rosemary. Rosemary declares to Anthony during this argument: “I want a man! Adam smells like soap! He smells like the lilies of the field!”

Anthony replies, “Why would you want to smell the cows on me, when you can smell the lilies on him?” Rosemary shouts, “I’m the one who should smell good! A man should stink—like you!”

And then, Rosemary says to Anthony: “It’s good that you’re tall. Men are beasts. They need that height to balance the truth and goodness of women.” We shudder to think what Rosemary might think about men who are short or average-sized. What’s also strange about this dialogue is that Anthony isn’t really that tall.

Anthony replies to Rosemary by saying something that viewers are thinking at this point: “There’s no answer to blather like that.” Rosemary continues undaunted, with a pseudo-feminist rant: “Hope is a force. And women are the salvation of the world! I believe that, and mean to make you believe it!”

The actors should be commended for not doing this scene without breaking out into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. That’s no guarantee that people watching the movie won’t laugh (or groan or cringe) at this scene, which is intended to be a serious emotional moment in the film, but comes across as something that might be in a rejected soap opera script. And again: What kind of farmers talk like they’re competing in a Bad Prose of the Year contest?

Blunt gives it her best shot to make Rosemary as feisty and “lovable” as possible. But it’s all just a façade, because Rosemary’s actions and intentions show how she’s not the strong-minded, independent woman she would like think she is. Almost everything she does in the story is to try to impress Anthony or get a reaction out of him. Her self-esteem is wrapped up in him, not in herself.

And the chemistry between Blunt and Dornan isn’t very believable, not the least of which because Anthony is supposed to be this sulking, brooding type who does everything he can to avoid having a serious romance with anyone. At one point in the story, Rosemary asks Anthony if he’s gay. He emphatically says “no,” and acts very offended by the question. And when Rosemary asks him if he’s a virgin, he scoffs at the idea.

You can’t really blame Rosemary for asking, because there’s no indication that Anthony has ever had a serious girlfriend. One of the biggest flaws of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that even though the main characters in this movie talk a lot, they don’t really show much personality. Anthony comes across as cold and very hard to read. Rosemary’s only real passion is trying to get Anthony to fall in love with her.

However, fans of Blunt (who starred in the Disney movie musicals “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins Returns”) will at least be happy to know that she does sing quite well in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” since she has a solo performance when Rosemary gets up on stage at a pub to sing “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Dornan also breaks out into song in the movie. And the music in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a family affair, since Dornan’s wife Amelia Warner is the film’s composer.

The biggest unintentional laughs in the movie are toward the end, when Anthony confesses a secret to Rosemary, after she begs him to tell her why he’s so against the idea of falling in love and getting married. It’s when the movie goes from bad to beyond redemption, and takes an abrupt turn into the depths of phony schmaltziness. “Wild Mountain Thyme” tries to throw in this sweet sentimentality to try to pander to a certain formula, but the movie really just stinks like the garbage that it is.

Bleecker Street released “Wild Mountain Thyme” in U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.

Review: ‘The War With Grandpa,’ starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Laura Marano, Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour and Christopher Walken

October 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Robert De Niro and Oakes Fegley in “The War With Grandpa” (Photo courtesy of 101 Studios)

“The War With Grandpa”

Directed by Tim Hill

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “The War With Grandpa” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A sixth-grade boy declares war on his grandfather, because the grandfather has moved into the family home and has been given the boy’s room, while the boy has been forced to live in the attic.

Culture Audience: “The War With Grandpa” will appeal primarily to people who like silly family comedies that have a lot of predictable slapstick gags.

Cheech Marin, Robert De Niro, Jane Seymour and Christopher Walken in “The War With Grandpa” (Photo courtesy of 101 Studios)

Robert De Niro is an Oscar-winning actor who has influenced countless of other actors and worked with many of the best and most talented people in the movie business. His work with director Martin Scorsese has been highly lauded and always anticipated. But when it comes to the types of comedy films that De Niro makes, for whatever reason, he usually chooses bottom-of-the-barrel dreck. “The War With Grandpa” is one in a long list of De Niro comedy films that are downright demeaning for an actor of his talent.

De Niro hasn’t really made a good comedy film since 2000’s “Meet the Parents.” And the types of characters he’s been playing in comedies fit the same mind-numbing cliché: He’s a grumpy retiree (usually a widower) who annoys someone younger. And the movie almost always revolves around this flimsy “generation gap” premise that is poorly executed in the movie.

Such is the moldy concept presented in “The War With Grandpa,” directed by Tim Hill as if it’s a cheesy made-for-TV movie. Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember wrote “The War With Grandpa’s” awful screenplay, which is adapted from the Robert Kimmel Smith novel of the same name. The quality of this movie is so low that unknown actors could’ve played the roles and it wouldn’t have made a difference in the cheap and mostly unfunny gags and jokes in the movie.

The essential story is that De Niro plays a widower named Ed Marino, whose daughter Sally Decker (played by Uma Thurman) is worried about him being depressed and living alone. Ed is a two-hour drive away, so Sally insists that he move in with her and her family. Ed is given the bedroom of Sally’s only son Peter (played by Oakes Fegley), who is forced to live in the house’s run-down and leaky attic. Peter hates being displaced from the comfort of his bedroom, so he declares “war” on his grandfather.

Sally works at a car dealership. Her husband Arthur Decker (whom Ed likes to call Artie) works in a corporate desk job that Ed calls “soul-sucking.” Ed, who is a retired construction worker who built homes, doesn’t respect Arthur, who was an aspiring architect, but Arthur abandoned those dreams to work in a boring office job.

Sally and Arthur’s three children are Mia (played by Laura Marano), who’s about 16 years old; Peter, who’s about 11 years old; and Jennifer, or Jenny (played by Poppy Gagnon), who’s about 6 years old. Mia is a typical sarcastic teenager, while Jenny is a typical cute kid who’s the “innocent and sweet” child in the family. Peter is a typical middle child who often feels ignored and underappreciated.

Mia is at an age where she wants more independence, but Sally is paranoid about Mia’s dating activities and won’t allow Mia to be alone in the house with any teenage boys. Mia and a fellow student named Russell (played by Colin Ford) have some romantic sparks between them and they inevitably begin dating. Sally can’t even stand the thought of Mia kissing a boyfriend, which leads to an over-the-top scene later in the movie when Sally goes on a rampage and attacks Russell.

Peter begins sixth grade at around the same time that his grandfather Ed has moved into the family home and gets Peter’s bedroom. Peter complains about it to his three closest friends, who are all in the same class with him at school: anxious Steve (played by Isaac Kragten), wisecracking Billy (played by Juliocesar Chavez) and practical Emma (played by T.J. McGibbon).

In yet another cliché in movies like this, Peter is the target of a school bully (played by Drew Scheid), an older student who does things like dump chili in Peter’s backpack while Peter and his friends are seated at a table in the school cafeteria. The movie also has a running joke that Steve’s older teenage sister Lisa (played by Lydia Styslinger) frequently interrupts the friends’ conversation to mention something embarrassing about Steve, which he usually denies.

Among the problems that Peter encounters by living in the attic are a leaky roof that drips water onto one side of his bed; a mouse that chews an electrical cord, causing interruptions in the attic’s electricity; and a bat that randomly appears out of nowhere, which causes Peter to get so scared that he accidentally bumps his head on a ceiling beam. Instead of telling his parents so they could handle these problems (for starters, they could get a mousetrap), Peter blames his discomfort on his grandfather. Ed didn’t really want to live in the home in the first place, but he only agreed to live there to please his daughter Sally.

One night, Ed finds a note slipped underneath his door. The note is titled “Declaration of War,” with a demand that Ed has 24 hours to “give me back what’s mine.” The note is anonymously signed with the alias Secret Warrior, but of course Ed knows exactly who wrote this hostile missive. Ed is slightly amused and ignores the note.

After the 24 hours have passed and Ed hasn’t given up his place in Peter’s former bedroom, the war is on. After midnight, Peter sends another note, this time, by a remote-controlled noisy toy car, which wakes up Ed. The note reads, “People who steal each other’s rooms should not sleep well.”

The next morning, Ed has a heart-to-heart talk with Peter and tells him, “I’m not your enemy.” Peter remains unmoved, so Ed tells him that if they’re going to war with each other, they have to establish rules of engagement. Ed and Peter agree to two rules: (1) They won’t do anything that would involve other family members during the “war” and (2) They won’t tell anyone else in the family about the “war” while it’s still going on. Easier said than done.

What follows is a series of slapstick scenes that are mostly juvenile and unimaginative. Ed, wearing nothing but a towel in the bathroom, finds out that the shaving cream on his face is really foam sealant that was placed in the shaving can by you-know-who. Ed makes a ruckus that alarms Arthur, who goes in the bathroom to see what’s going on.

Arthur’s sudden presence startles Ed, who accidentally drops his towel in front of a mortified Arthur, who screams at the sight of his naked father-in-law. It won’t be the last time that Arthur sees Ed’s naked genitals and has the same high-pitched screaming reaction. (This is a family movie, so there’s no nudity.)

There are also numerous scenes showing Ed (in other words, De Niro’s obvious stunt double) falling down hard from tripping or losing his grip somewhere, because this movie wants people to think that it’s supposed to be funny that old people fall down in a way that could break bones or cause head injuries. Ed has a sentimental collection of marbles that he keeps in a jar. You can easily predict what happens and who’s responsible.

Ed’s pranks on Peter aren’t as harsh. At school, Peter is asked to read an essay out loud to his class about what he did for his summer vacation. As Peter starts to read the essay, he finds out that it’s been replaced with an essay that he didn’t write, which says things like, “I stopped showering until I smelled like a monkey’s butt” and “I sealed my own farts in a baggie.”

Ed decides to spy on Peter, so he buys surveillance equipment at a Best Buy type of store, where he has problems using the self-checkout machine. A store clerk named Diane (played by Jane Seymour) offers to help him use the machine. They make small talk, she asks why he’s purchasing a lot of spying equipment, and Ed tells Diane about the “war” that he’s having with his grandson Peter. Diane is sympathetic, because she says that she has a granddaughter who drives her crazy. It’s easy to see that Diane will eventually become Ed’s love interest in the movie.

Peter also does things like put hot pepper in coffee that’s intended for Ed, but Peter’s mother Sally ends up drinking the coffee instead while she’s in her car and stopped at a street intersection. She spits out the coffee, and the cup with the remaining coffee goes flying out the car window onto a cop on a motorcycle that’s right next to her car. Things escalate to a point where Peter pays Billy to borrow Billy’s pet snake, but there’s a mishap where the snake doesn’t go where it was intended. (Hint: The gag with the motorcycle cop is used more than once in the movie.)

There’s another slapstick scene where Ed is attending the funeral of a close friend, and his phone starts ringing loudly while he’s standing next to the open casket. Of course, it’s Peter who’s calling. When Ed gets the phone to turn it off, he accidentally drops the phone on top of the body and makes things worse when he tries to retrieve it. The phone slides further down the corpse in an area where Ed definitely doesn’t want to touch. Because this is a dumb movie, it’s never explained how Peter could know the exact moment to call to engineer this humiliating funeral mishap.

Ed has two close friends whom he eventually recruits to help him get revenge on Peter. Jerry (played by Christopher Walken, another Oscar winner who’s slumming it in this movie) is like a teenager in a senior citizen’s body, because he lives in a loft that’s decked out with games like pinball machines and foosball and the latest technology. Danny (played by Cheech Marin) sees himself as a ladies’ man and he flirts with younger women as much as he can.

When Ed and Peter decide to face off in a game of dodgeball with their respective friends, Ed enlists the help of store clerk Diane to join his team. Ed, Jerry, Danny and Diane then compete against Peter, Steve, Billy and Emma in a fairly long dodgeball scene that once again uses male genitals as fodder for a joke, when Steve gets brutally hit in his genitals by a dodgeball during the game. It’s a predictable gag that doesn’t work as well as the gag of Danny’s dentures flying out of his mouth during the game.

All of these gags and slapstick humor would work better if the movie’s dialogue and acting had some level of unique spark or creativity. But almost everything in “The War With Grandpa” is tiresome and formulaic. The experienced actors in the movie look like they only did this film for the money. Fegley does his best to be funny, but his Peter character (who turns into quite the annoying brat) is written in such a generic way (there are similar annoying brats in too many other movies) that “The War With Grandpa” will not be a breakout role for him.

The “war” culminates at a big Christmas-themed birthday party for youngest child Jennifer. It goes as badly as one would expect, with a lot of over-the-top and unrealistic antics and mishaps. “The War With Grandpa” isn’t the worst comedy ever, but it’s another unnecessary embarrassment that’s tainted De Niro’s illustrious career. The man who starred in the classic 1982 film “The King of Comedy” has now become the king of bad senior-citizen comedy.

101 Studios released “The War With Grandpa” in U.S. cinemas on October 9, 2020.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EohVvIWg-Oc
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