Review: ‘Bros’ (2022), starring Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane

September 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in “Bros” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/Universal Pictures)

“Bros” (2022)

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York and briefly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the comedy film “Bros” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An openly gay podcast/writer, who is very cynical about finding love, begins a new job as executive director of a museum for LGBTQ+ history and culture, around the same time that he finds himself falling in love with a man whom he thinks isn’t his “type.” 

Culture Audience: “Bros” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-written, adult-oriented romantic comedies from a gay, cisgender male perspective.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Ts Madison, Billy Eichner, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, Jim Rash and Dot-Marie Jones in “Bros” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/Universal Pictures)

Blending real talk about relationships, some hilarious sex scenes, and a sweet-natured romance at the heart of the story, “Bros” is a romantic comedy that has Billy Eichner’s boldly sarcastic style written all over it. It’s made for open-minded adults. It also helps if people know a lot of about pop culture and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) history to understand many of the jokes in the movie. “Bros” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote the “Bros” screenplay with Eichner), “Bros” is a history-making film because it’s the first major studio movie in wide release with a majority LGBTQ+ cast and co-written by an openly gay man. Considering that it took this long for this cinematic milestone to happen, “Bros” is a triumph and an instant classic LGBTQ movie. Just because the movie centers on a gay man and his love life, that doesn’t mean this movie is only for LGBTQ people. However, “Bros” definitely earns its Motion Pictures of America Association rating recommendation for people ages 17 and up, because of the movie’s sexual content, adult language and drug use. As the saying goes, “Viewer discretion is advised.”

In “Bros,” Eichner portrays 40-year-old Bobby Leiber, an openly gay podcaster/writer who is famous enough to be on the cover of The Advocate magazine. Bobby has an unapologetically activist attitude when it comes to advocating for LGBTQ rights and speaking out against homophobia. Eichner has said in interviews that some of Bobby’s personality and life are inspired by Eichner’s own real-life experiences, but “Bros” is not an autobiographical film.

Bobby is also very aware that as a cisgender white man, he gets more privileges than LGBTQ people who aren’t cisgender white men. The movie opens with Bobby making an episode of his podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall.” It’s in reference to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City that is considered a turning point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The uprising happened as a way for LGBTQ people to show that they were fed up with homophobic arrests and harassment from police, and they fought back in groups against the police. Throwing bricks was part of this Stonewall uprising.

It’s an example of why “Bros” viewers need to know about this brick throwing and Stonewall to understand why Bobby makes this comment about why he named his podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall,” and why Bobby knows how LGBTQ history, just like heterosexual-oriented history, tends to erase the contributions of people who aren’t white men: “Because we all know a butch lesbian or a trans woman of color probably threw the first brick at Stonewall, but it was a cis white gay man who threw the 11th brick,” Bobby says. Later in the movie, Bobby points out how transgender female activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were the real heroes of the Stonewall uprising but often don’t get the credit for it because Johnson and Rivera were transgender women of color.

Bobby is a bachelor who says he’s never been in love and has never dated anyone for more than three months. He’s very cynical about the possibility of ending up with a soul mate, and he doesn’t really believe that monogamy works for him. Other than feeling unlucky when it comes to romantic love, Bobby is happy with his life because he’s healthy, and his friends and his work keep him fulfilled.

Bobby, who has no siblings, was born and raised in New York City. He was raised Jewish, but he is not particularly religious or spiritual. His mother died when Bobby was in college, and his father died when Bobby was 10 years old. In “Bros,” no other biological family members of Bobby are shown. Like many gay people, Bobby has a “chosen family” that is a tight-knit circle of friends, most of whom are also LGBTQ.

The first 15 minutes of “Bros” show that Bobby has been trying to branch out in his career besides doing his podcast. During his podcast, when a caller asks Bobby, if he’s going to write any more books, Bobby talks about his failed career as a children’s book author. His children’s book “Are You There, God? It’s Martina Navratilova” was a flop. Bobby sarcastically says, “Hey, parents, thanks for teaching kids about Santa Claus—a straight man who doesn’t exist—and not about Martina Navratilova, a lesbian who does.”

Bobby also tells his audience that on his social media, he uploaded an outtake from his failed “Queer Eye” audition, where he was trying out to be one of the co-hosts of this Emmy-winning Netflix series about gay men who give life makeovers to people whose lives are stuck in a rut. “Bros” shows this “outtake” clip of Bobby looking unimpressed, while the “Queer Eye” hosts (actors portraying the real hosts) are nearby crying over the makeover they’ve just completed for a man with a sob story. Bobby deadpans, “I’m sorry, this isn’t sad. You gave him a haircut and a pair of pants.”

Bobby has also tried to become a movie screenwriter, with mixed results. “Bros” shows a brief flashback of Bobby in a meeting with an unnamed Hollywood executive (played by Doug Trapp), who wants Bobby to write a gay romantic comedy movie. The executive says, “We just want to make a movie that shows the world that gay relationships are the same [as straight relationships]. Love is love is love.”

An offended Bobby then goes on a rant and says that “Love is love is love” was a “lie” invented by LGBTQ people just to get more acceptance from heterosexual people. Bobby then lectures the executive by saying that dating for LGBTQ people is very different from dating for heterosexual people. And before Bobby ends the meeting by storming out, Bobby says that not all gay people are smart or nice.

To his podcast audience, Bobby opens up about how lonely his love life can be and how he usually has meaningless sexual encounters with men he meets on dating apps such as Grindr. Although Bobby says it doesn’t really bother him that he’s perpetually single and often alone, you can tell it really does bother him. He sighs with an air of resignation, “I’m not the right person to write a rom-com anyway.”

Things are looking up for Bobby in his career though. At the LGBTQ+ Pride Awards (where Bobby is a presenter, and which features actress/LGBTQ ally Kristin Chenoweth as herself in a cameo), Bobby announces that he’s been named executive director of the National Museum of LGBTQ+ History and Culture. Bobby will be the first executive director of this non-profit museum, which will open in New York City sometime in less than a year, after the museum’s grand opening was postponed multiple times already. His job includes fundraising and making decisions about the museum’s exhibits. Bobby will continue to be a podcaster, but the museum is now his main job.

Not long after sharing this big news, Bobby attends a launch party for a gay dating app called Zellweger, which is for men who want to sexually hook up with each other and talk about famous actresses. Bobby’s friend Henry (played by Guy Branum) works for Zellweger and has invited Bobby to this party, which is at a nightclub filled with shirtless and good-looking men dancing with each other. It’s at this party that Bobby meets Aaron Shepard (played by Luke Macfarlane), who is one of the shirtless, good-looking men.

Bobby and Aaron (who is in his early 40s) strike up a casual and mildly flirtatious conversation. Within the first few minutes, it’s obvious that Aaron is not the type of guy whom Bobby is usually attracted to on an intellectual or emotional level. For starters, Bobby is disappointed that Aaron doesn’t recognize a Mariah Carey remix song that’s playing at the party. Aaron says he prefers country music, and his favorite artist is Garth Brooks. Bobby is not a fan of country music.

Aaron also works in probate law as an estate planner. In other words, he helps people write their wills. Bobby thinks it’s a stuffy and boring corporate job. Bobby prefers to date men whom he thinks has more exciting lives than the type of life that Aaron seems to have. Bobby is a motormouth, while Aaron is a lot less talkative. Still, Bobby and Aaron seem to share the same sarcastic sense of humor, and they make each other laugh.

Bobby also finds out that Aaron isn’t quite as dull and uptight as Bobby thought he was on first impression. Aaron points out two shirtless men (played by Keith Milkie and Alex Ringler) on the dance floor. Aaron tells Bobby that the two men are a couple, and Aaron has a date to have sex with both of them after the party.

In “Bros,” hookup culture (which includes a lot of group sex) is explicitly depicted as a fact of life for many single (and sometimes married) gay/queer men. It’s the type of reality that Bobby says should be discussed more openly and honestly when people talk about the LGBTQ community to heterosexual people. “Bros” also has a scene of poppers (a drug that’s inhaled) being used during sexual activity. If you don’t know how common it is for gay men to use poppers, then “Bros” aims to enlighten viewers.

As much as Bobby doesn’t think he’s attracted to Aaron, Bobby gets annoyed when Aaron seems to give him the brushoff at the party. Bobby and Aaron tell each other that they’re not looking for a serious relationship, but Bobby is less willing than Aaron to play it cool. Bobby also sends mixed messages to Aaron. During their first meeting, Bobby insults Aaron by telling him that he heard that Aaron is “boring,” but Bobby still expects Aaron to be charmed enough by Bobby to pursue a romantic relationship with Bobby.

Of course, Bobby and Aaron end up dating each other, but they both struggle with trying to define their relationship and how “committed” they should be to each other. Describing each other as a “boyfriend” would be a big step for them. Throughout their relationship, Bobby is insecure that Aaron won’t find Bobby physically attractive enough, while Aaron is insecure that Bobby won’t find Aaron exciting enough.

“Bros” hits a lot of familiar beats that are often in heterosexual romantic comedies, where two single people start dating each other and try to figure out if the relationship is meant to last. There are jealousy issues, commitment issues and family acceptance issues. And there’s at least one big argument that leads to a turning point where the couple has to decide to break up or stay together. Thankfully, “Bros” does not have the treacly and over-used cliché of someone racing to an airport to confess true feelings, in order for the couple to be together.

“Bros” has a snappy and often-breezy tone that points out the nuances and diversity in the LGBTQ community. Bobby oversees a staff that exemplifies this diversity and how different agendas in the LGBTQ community often compete for priorities and have other conflicts. Staff meetings often turn into arguments where the staffers fight for museum exhibits that represent their particular sexual or gender identity.

The museum staffers include gender-fluid/gender-nonconforming Tamara (played by Miss Lawrence), butch lesbian Cherry (played by Dot-Marie Jones), bisexual man Robert (played by Jim Rash) and trangsender women Angela (played by Ts Madison) and Tamara (played by Eve Lindley). One of the staff arguments is about how to present a museum exhibit of 16th U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and his close companion Captain David Derickson, who wrote love letters to each other and slept in the same bed when first lady Mary Lincoln was away. Bobby feels strongly that the museum should describe Abraham Lincoln as a closeted gay man, while Robert insists that Abraham Lincoln was bisexual.

In addition to the drama about the museum exhibits, Bobby also has to contend with raising enough money to open the museum, which needs about $5 million in order to launch. These fundraising efforts lead to laugh-out-loud scenes with actress Debra Messing (playing a version of herself) and Bowen Yang (playing a gay and wealthy TV producer named Lawrence “Larry” Grape) as potentially major donors to the museum. Messing has a cameo in “Bros,” but it’s a truth-telling appearance where she lashes out about gay men thinking she’s the same as the Grace Adler character (a straight woman with a gay male best friend) that she portrayed in the sitcom “Will & Grace.”

Somehow, all of the scenes of Bobby and his job challenges aren’t a distraction from the main plot about Bobby and Aaron’s relationship. The movie is written in a way to show that what Bobby learns from his mistakes on the job and in his love life are intertwined and affect each other. Bobby is far from perfect: He can be stubborn, selfish and mean-spirited. But he’s also kind, generous and open to improving himself.

Aaron learns from Bobby about what it’s like to take bold risks in life, since Aaron tends to make decisions where he doesn’t have to go outside of his comfort zone. Aaron confides in Bobby that Aaron hates his job and has had a secret childhood dream to have another job, which is detailed in the movie. It’s at this point in the movie where you know what’s going to happen to Aaron’s childhood dream. Bobby also has a childhood dream that “Bros” handles in a heartwarming and sentimental way.

Aaron comes from a completely different world and upbringing than what Bobby has experienced. Aaron grew up in upstate New York with his married parents, including his schoolteacher mother Anne (played by Amanda Bearse), and older brother Jason (played by Jai Rodriguez), who know he is gay but don’t really like to discuss it openly. Bobby has been openly gay since he was an underage kid. Aaron came out as gay later in life, when Aaron was an adult. Aaron also grew up in a suburban area that is a lot more politically conservative than New York City.

But wait, there’s more: “Bros” has a love triangle subplot that doesn’t get too messy, even though this subplot wasn’t that necessary to put in the movie. The love triangle happens when Bobby and Aaron are on a date at a movie theater, and they happen to have a conversation with a former high school classmate of Aaron’s named Josh Evans (played by Ryan Faucett), who was on the school’s hockey team with Aaron. When they were students, Aaron was still in the closet about his sexuality, and he used to have a secret crush on Josh.

As the movie’s central couple, Eichner and Macfarlane have believable chemistry as two people in an “opposites attract” romance. Eichner gives a betterand more natural-looking performance, in large part because he created the role for himself. Macfarlane has a few moments where his acting is stilted and seems forced, but overall his performance has a lot of affable charm. Macfarlane has previously starred in Hallmark Channel romantic movies. “Bros” pokes fun at a TV network called Hallheart (which is an obvious spoof of the real-life Hallmark Channel), which is depicted as being culturally late in having movies centered on LGBTQ people and trying to make up for it by having more LGBTQ-themed movies than ever before.

“Bros” has numerous supporting characters without overstuffing the movie and confusing viewers. Many of these supporting characters are in Bobby’s circle friends, such as elderly Louis (played by Harvey Fierstein), who lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts (a popular vacation city for gay men) and lets Bobby and Aaron stay at his place when Bobby and Aaron are in Provincetown for Pride festivities. Bobby is also close with a gay couple named Peter (played by Peter Kim) and Paul (played by Justin Covington), who are dating a man named Marty (played by Symone), in a “throuple” relationship.

Other friends of Bobby’s are straight married couple Tina (played by Monica Raymund) and Edgar (played by Guillermo Diaz), who are progressive liberals. Tina and Edgar have two children named Hannah (played by Dahlia Rodriguez), who’s about 5 years old, and Brian (played by Derrick Delgado), who’s abut 8 years old. Tina and Edgar think that Brian might be gay, and they have no problem with it, but occasionally ask Bobby for thoughts on what he thinks a gay child needs from supportive parents. Bobby often confides in Tina about his love life.

With all of these characters and subplots, “Bros” has a total running time (115 minutes) that’s longer than a typical romantic comedy. The movie isn’t perfect, because it tends to ramble and get a little repetitive about how commitment-phobic Bobby and Aaron are. Still, the nearly two-hour runtime of “Bros” is worth it if people want to see a highly entertaining and witty romantic comedy, where the adult relationships aren’t toned down to present an unrealistic and sappy story.

Universal Pictures released “Bros” in U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘White Noise’ (2022), starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle

September 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sam Nivola, Adam Driver, May Nivola, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy and Dean Moore or Henry Moore (pictured in front) in “White Noise” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Netflix)

“White Noise” (2022)

Directed by Noah Baumbach

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ohio, the comedy/drama film “White Noise” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A college professor and his family begin to see life differently after a toxic pollution disaster forces residents in their area to evacuate and take shelter in public places.

Culture Audience: “White Noise” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Noah Baumbach; stars Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, and Don Cheadle; and comedy/drama films with life-and-death themes.

Don Cheadle and Adam Driver in “White Noise” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Netflix)

With acerbic wit about life and death, “White Noise” memorably shows how a college professor and his family cope with an unexpected evacuation from a pollution disaster. In this well-acted but uneven comedy/drama, the real disaster is dishonesty in relationships. The movie covers both familiar and unfamiliar territory for writer/director/producer Noah Baumbach, whose speciality is making movies about neurotic, middle-class people who deal with problems that they usually bring on themselves.

“White Noise,” which is based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name, had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in Italy and its North American premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City. The “White Noise” movie is also set in the early-to-mid-1980s. Baumbach’s “White Noise” cinematic adaptation is quintessential Baumbach, with a talented cast who adeptly handle the verbose dialogue. In Baumbach’s movies, the characters tend to do an over-analysis of people and life, to great comedic effect.

What isn’t typical of Baumbach is for him direct a movie from an adapted screenplay. The previous movies that Baumbach has directed were from his own original screenplays. Baumbach also never done a disaster movie that will get some comparisons to the way that Steven Spielberg does disaster movies.

“White Noise” isn’t a big-budget blockbuster. However, “White Noise” does have some tense action sequences of people trying to find shelter in a disaster, in scenes that are very reminiscent of Spielberg’s 2005 version of “War of the Worlds.” There’s no outer-space alien invasion in “White Noise. The real disruption comes to members of a family who are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves after they evacuate from their home during the disaster.

In “White Noise,” which takes place in an unnamed cities in Ohio, a college professor named Jack Gladney (played by Adam Driver) thinks he’s living a very safe and comfortable life where he has a lot of patriarchal control. Jack teaches the unusual subject of “advanced Nazism” at a learning institution that is never named in the movie, but is referred to as the College on the Hill. Jack usually thinks he’s the smartest person in the room at any given time (a personality trait of least one main character in a typical Baumbach film), so Jack tends to be overbearing and arrogant, but not to the point of being completely obnoxious.

Jack lives with his wife Babette (played by Greta Gerwig), who works as an activities director at a senior living center. Babette and Jack have a blended family that includes four children. Eldest child Heinrich (played by Sam Nivola), a son from Jack’s previous marriage, is about 16 years old and has a keen interest in science. The middle children are Babette’s two daughters from her previous marriage: Denise (played by Raffey Cassidy), who’s about 15 years old, and Steffie (played by May Nivola), who’s about 12 years old. Jack and Babette have a biological child together named Wilder (played by identical twins Henry Moore and Dean Moore), who’s about 4 years old.

The first third of the movie mostly shows how Jack interacts with people in his home and at work. At home, Jack and his very opinionated family frequently talk over each other and have simultaneous conversations with each other. Babette tends to be cheerful and optimistic. Jack tends to be stern and cynical. Mornings in the kitchen and dining room can be described as ordered chaos, as Heinrich, Denise and Steffie sometimes bicker, while their parents try to get everyone out of the house in time to go where they need to be.

At work, Jack takes pleasure in commanding the room with his in-depth lectures about Nazis. The movie never explains why Jack is so fascinated with Nazis (he does not endorse this hate group), but in his lectures, Jack drops hints that people need to study what the Nazis did so that atrocities like the Holocaust won’t happen again. As a history expert, Jack is profoundly awestuck by how quickly Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime took over Europe and had far-reaching effects across the world.

Jack has a friendly rapport with his Murray Suskind (played by Don Cheadle), an entertainment industry professor at the same college. In the opening scene of “White Noise,” Murray is seen giving an enthusiastic lecture about the art of car crashes in American movies. He even goes as far to say that car crashes in American movies are superior than car crashes in European movies.

Murray tells his students that these cinematic car crashes are “a long tradition of American optimism” and “self-celebration.” Murray adds, “Look past the violence, I say, and there is a wonderful, brimming spirit of innocence and fun.” Murray’s lecture is the movie’s first indication that several of the movie’s characters are living in a safe bubble that’s about to be popped.

Murray greatly admires Jack’s lecture styling, so later in the movie, there’s an amusing scene where Jack (at Murray’s invitation) is a guest speaker in Murray’s classroom. The topic is about Elvis Presley, but Jack has been asked to give information showing how Presley and Hitler had many things in common. For example, Presley and Hitler both had fanatical followings and both were “mama’s boys” with domineering mothers.

This “Presley/Hitler” lecture starts off as a dual presentation, with Murray and Jack taking turns giving factoids about Presley and Hitler. But then, Jack shows his tendency of taking control of everything he does, and Jack ends up taking over the lecture and doing all the talking. Jack gets so worked-up and passionate in his speaking that he almost acts like a pastor preaching to a congregation.

Jack’s speech culminates with Jack getting a standing ovation from everyone else in the room, including a few other faculty members who stopped by to hear Jack speak in this class. One of these co-workers is a professor named Elliot Lasher (played by André Benjamin. also known as André 3000), who’s a mild-mannered eccentric who doesn’t do much in his scenes except smile and give words of encouragement to the people around him.

Jack’s ego certainly gets a boost from this standing ovation. But within the 24 hours, his world will come crashing down with an avalanche of insecurity, deceit and mistrust. It starts off when Denise tells Jack that, in the kitchen garbage can, she found an empty prescription pill bottle owned by Babette. The prescription label on the bottle says that it contained a drug called Dylar.

Denise is worried because she can’t find Dylar in any medical book. (Remember, this story takes place in the 1980s, before the Internet existed.) Jack acts like he isn’t too worried, but deep down, he’s concerned too because he didn’t know anything about this prescription. Jack doesn’t confront or ask Babette about this secret prescription right away.

But something about this deception must have triggered something in Jack, because he starts to have harrowing nightmares that seem real. For example, he has a vision of a Jack clone or alter ego climbing into bed with him and sleeping in the place on the bed where Denise usually sleeps. In one of these nightmares, this Jack “clone” almost get suffocated by a blanket by an unseen force.

Meanwhile, a truck carrying toxic chemicals crashes into a moving train when the truck driver is distracted by grabbing a bottle of liquor from a passenger seat. It results in a massive train wreck and an explosion that destroys the truck and sends toxic chemicals in the air. The smoke can be seen for miles away.

One of the people who sees this smoke is Heinrich, who looks at it from afar with his binoculars. Heinrich heard about the train wreck on the local TV news. And he’s afraid that the toxic chemicals could pollute the air and be disaster for the area residents. Henrich tells his parents that maybe they should temporarily evacuate if the smoke comes any closer.

At first, Jack and Babette (especially Jack) are dismissive of Heinrich’s concerns. Jack says that it’s unlikely that the family will be affected by the smoke, since it’s not windy outside at the moment. And when it does get windy, Jack says that wind tends to blow in the direction that’s the opposite of their house.

It turns out that Jack is very wrong about his assumptions. The TV news descriptions of this pollution goes from being described as “a black billowing cloud” to “the airborne toxic event.” Emergency officials are ordering local residents to evacuate. Still in denial, Jack and Babette don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

But their attitude quickly changes when they see their neighborhood become deserted, with fire trucks and other emergency vehicles racing everywhere. By the time the Gladney family members evacuate their home, they’re in a sheer panic. While driving in the family car to go to the nearest designated shelter, they encounter many obstacles, including a traffic jam.

The rest of “White Noise” shows how the family members bond together and fall apart in certain ways during this disaster. While in the car, Jack notices Babette put something in her mouth and quickly swallow it, so he asks her what she just swallowed. Babette says it was a piece of Life Savers candy, but Jack is doubtful. He begins to wonder if it was a pill of the mysterious drug Dylar.

“White Noise” shows in clever and sometimes oddly amusing ways how the problems that are exposed in the Gladney family are a microcosm of a larger society problem of people being lulled and sometimes programmed into a false sense of security. It comes out in subtle and not-so-subtle symbolism and conversations in the movie. The character of Jack embodies this dichtomy of someone who thinks he’s in total control of his life but finds out that his life can quickly get out of his control, thereby making him question how much control he really has.

For example, when Henrick warns his family that the mysterious smoke could be dangerous pollution, Jack’s condescending comments is that if it turns into a disaster, the “poor and uneducated” will be the ones who will be hurt the most. Jack’s attitude is a satire of a very real mentality that middle-class and upper-class intellectuals have that they are somehow “immune” from catastrophes because they think they’re too smart and will somehow know how to avoid them.

Jack’s ego gets a little confused and flustered when he finds out that Heinrich knows a lot more about this type of science than Jack does. Jack seems proud of Heinrich for this knowledge, but it still makes Jack a little uneasy that Heinrich correctly predicted this disaster when Jack had been so dismissive and wrong about it. And with Heinrich outsmarting Jack when it comes to the science of this disaster, Jack turns toward his marriage to assert some of the dominance that he expects.

All of the cast members are well-suited to their roles, but the movie is really about what happens between Jack and Babette. They don’t have the type of marriage that is headed for divorce, unlike the couple in Baumbach’s 2019 drama “Marriage Story,” for which Driver earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Instead, Jack and Babette go through experiences that will make them reconsider how they are going to handle their marriage after the evacuation is over.

The fear of death and how to prepare for death are overarching themes in “White Noise,” as the pollution disaster makes several people confront their mortality. Early on in the movie, before even knowing that this disaster would happen, Jack tells Babette that he wants to die before her and that her death will be more spectacular than his. Jack says that Babette would be able to cope with being a widowed spouse better than he would be able to cope with being a widowed spouse. It might sound like a backwards compliment to Babette, but it’s really Jack’s way of saying that he doesn’t want to be a lonely widower who dies alone.

“White Noise” is hit or miss when it comes to character development. Cassidy (as Denise), Sam Nivola (as Heinrich), May Nivola (as Steffie) have believable chemistry together as stepsiblings trying to adjust to their blended family situation. (Sam and May Nivola are siblings in real life. Their parents are actors Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer.) By the last third of the movie, the kids are essentially sidelined for some soap opera-ish drama between Jack and Babette.

Jack’s college professor colleagues are undeveloped supporting characters. Viewers won’t find out much about Murray, Elliot and the other co-workers who frequently have lunch with Jack: neurochemist Winnie Richards (played by Jodie-Turner Smith), Alfonse (played by Sam Gold) and Cotsakis (played by George Drakoulias). Barbara Sukowa makes the most out of her cameo as an atheist nun called Sister Hermann Marie. Other characters appear in and out of the story like comedic plot devices, rather than people with fully developed personalities.

The conversations in “White Noise” have a cadence that might remind viewers of a stage play. Baumbach and the cast members have given interviews, including a press conference held after the movie’s New York Film Festival’s “White Noise” press screening, where it’s mentioned that the cast members had one month of rehearsals before filming the movie. Most movie productions do not have that rare rehearsal privilege for cast members.

The ending of “White Noise” might seem a little too conveniently contrived for some people’s tastes. However, the end-credits sequence is a must-see for viewers, because this sequence artfully ties in together many of the movie’s themes, (The end-credits sequence involves dance choreography at an A&P grocery store while the LCD Soundsystem song “New Body Rhumba” plays on the movie soundtrack.) The “white noise” of life can either pacify, agitate or do both, depending on the people and the circumstances. The movie “White Noise” asks people and wants to know: “Are you paying attention to the white noise in the first place?”

Netflix will release “White Noise” in select U.S. cinemas on November 25, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on December 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Hocus Pocus 2,’ starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy

September 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in “Hocus Pocus 2” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Hocus Pocus 2”

Directed by Anne Fletcher

Culture Representation: Taking place in Salem, Massachusetts, the fantasy comedy film “Hocus Pocus 2” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In this sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson witch sisters return to wreak more havoc on Salem. 

Culture Audience: “Hocus Pocus 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s main stars and the original 1993 “Hocus Pocus” movie, but fans should keep their expectations low, since “Hocus Pocus 2” delivers a very forgettable and middling story.

Belissa Escobedo, Whitney Peak and Lilia Buckingham in “Hocus Pocus 2” (Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

The magic of a classic film is missing from “Hocus Pocus 2,” which lacks much of the charm and adventure of 1993’s “Hocus Pocus” movie. The chase scenes are tepid, the performances are inferior to the original movie, and the witches show no real danger to the kids. “Hocus Pocus 2” plays out like a lazily conceived TV special (including annoying sitcom-ish music) instead of a cinematic event, which is why “Hocus Pocus 2” was released directly to Disney+ instead of movie theaters first.

Directed by Anne Fletcher, “Hocus Pocus 2” suffers from sequel-itis: when a sequel doesn’t do anything to improve on the original project. Because it took 29 years to release a sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” this sequel-itis problem is harder to forgive for “Hocus Pocus 2,” because there’s been plenty of time to come up with better ideas for a follow-up to “Hocus Pocus.” The more experienced cast members of “Hocus Pocus 2” perform better than the less-experienced cast members, but that’s not saying much when the movie’s unimaginative screenplay from Jen D’Angelo drags the movie down a lackluster and frequently boring path.

The original “Hocus Pocus” movie is not a great film, but it gained a cult following and has since become a Halloween classic for a lot of people, just like 1983’s “A Christmas Story” (another mediocre movie) gained a cult following and became a beloved Christmas film for a lot of movie viewers. The story in “Hocus Pocus 2” gets distracted by a lot of teen angst about who is and who isn’t in certain cliques in high school. “Hocus Pocus 2” has too many filler scenes that make it look like about 40 minutes of this 103-minute film could have been removed, and this editing wouldn’t have made a difference at all to the movie’s underwhelming conclusion.

In the first “Hocus Pocus” movie (which was set in 1993), 15-year-old Max Dennison (played by Omri Katz) and his 8-year-old sister Dani Dennison (played by Thora Birch) have recently moved with their parents from Los Angeles to Salem. Max and Dani hear about the Salem legend of three witch sisters—Winifred Sanderson (played by Bette Midler), Mary Sanderson (played by Kathy Najimy) and Sarah Sanderson (played by Sarah Jessica Parker)—who were known for eating children and were hanged to death by Salem residents in 1693. Ever since, Salem has been under threat of the possibility that the spirits of the Sanderson witches could return to get revenge and to kill more children.

Winifred, the eldest Sanderson sister, is bossy and mean-spirited. Mary, the middle sister, is nervous and eager to please “alpha witch” Winifred. Sarah, the youngest sister, is ditzy and very flirtatious. As legend has it, Winifred poisoned to death a man named William “Billy” Butcherson (played by Doug Jones) in 1693, because Billy was caught kissing Sarah, even though Winifred claimed Billy was her boyfriend. In “Hocus Pocus,” the Billy character was resurrected from his grave as a zombie.

The only way that the Sanderson sisters can come back to life is on Halloween, during a night with a full moon, and if someone lights a special black candle and chants a certain spell. The Sanderson sisters have a big book of spells called the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy that is actually “alive” (the book has one eye that can open and shut), and the sisters want to get possession of this book when they are resurrected. However, these witch sisters can be stopped when the sun comes up before they can cast the ultimate spells that they want to cast.

In “Hocus Pocus,” a skeptical Max, who doesn’t believe in magic, accidentally brings back to life the Sanderson sister witches, who then kidnap Dani. Max teams up with a classmate (and his secret crush) named Allison Watts (played by Vinessa Shaw) to try to rescue Dani. “Hocus Pocus” is very predictable, but it has plenty of amusing and adventurous moments.

In “Hocus Pocus 2” (which takes place in Salem in 2022), the witches are brought back to life on purpose by two best friends named Becca (played by Whitney Peak) and Izzy (played by Belissa Escobedo), who conjure up the Sanderson Sisters on a moonlit Halloween night that happens to be Becca’s 16th birthday. There’s also an adult character who wants the witches to be brought back to Salem. This conjuring scene doesn’t happen until about 30 minutes into the movie.

Instead, “Hocus Pocus 2” begins with tedious flashback scenes showing the Sanderson sisters as girls who are about 11 or 12 years old, sometime in the late 1600s. Taylor Henderson has the role of Young Winifred, Nina Kitchen performs as Young Mary, and Juju Journey Brener is the character of Young Sarah. None of this backstory amusing, interesting or well-acted.

The only real purpose of this drawn-out flashback is to show that the Sanderson sisters’ main nemesis back then was a judgmental pastor named Reverend Traske (played by Tony Hale), who has told Winifred that she’s getting old and has arranged for her to marry a young man named John Pritchett (played by Thomas Fitzgerald). The movie makes a point of showing that back in the 1600s, when human beings’ life expectancies were much shorter than they are now, pre-teen girls could get married and had marriages arranged for them by elders in the community.

However, Winifred doesn’t want to marry John, because she has her sights set on young Billy (played by Austin J. Ryan) to be her future husband. Winifred also defies and insults Reverend Traske by taking the Lord’s name in vain. With a crowd of Salem residents gathered in the town square, Reverend Traske shames Winifred and banishes her from Salem. (No one mentions where the sisters’ parents are during all this brouhaha.)

During this public shaming, Winifred has secretly put a live spider on the reverend’s arm. When he sees the spider, Reverend Traske panics and causes an uproar. Amid the chaos, the Sanderson sisters run into the woods nearby to hide. While in these woods, the sisters encounter the Witch Mother (played by Hannah Waddingham), who gives them the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy. The Sanderson sisters use the Spell of Smoke and Flame to set fire to Reverend Traske’s house as revenge. (No one is killed in this arson.)

“One day, Salem will belong to us!” Winifred vows when stating what will be the Sanderson sisters’ main mission. Winifred is the most vengeful and angriest of the three sisters. “Hocus Pocus 2” later has flashbacks of the Sanderson sisters as older teenagers, with Skyla Sousa as Winifred, Aiden Torres as Mary, and Emma Kaufman as Sarah.

It turns out that Reverend Traske was an ancestor of Salem’s current Mayor Traske (also played by Hale), who is campaigning for re-election in one of the movie’s useless subplots. Hale does his usual schtick of playing a neurotic character who is socially awkward but puts up a front of false confidence. Mayor Traske has a teenage daughter named Cassie (played by Lilia Buckingham), who attends Samuel Skelton High School in Salem. Becca and Izzy are two Cassie’s classmates.

Cassie, Becca and Izzy used to be a trio of best friends, until Cassie started avoiding Becca and Izzy and began spending more time with her athlete boyfriend Mike (played by Froy Gutierrez), a fellow classmate who is shallow and not smart. Mike has a particular dislike of Becca and Izzy, because he thinks these two pals have a weird interest in magic and the supernatural. He publicly teases Becca and Izzy about being witches.

Cassie is a passive girlfriend who goes along with whatever what Mike wants. Becca and Izzy feel confused and betrayed over why Cassie has seemingly turned against them, just so Cassie can fit in with Mike and his popular friends. Is this a “Hocus Pocus” movie or a run-of-the-mill teen soap opera? The movie takes way too much time with this subplot about teenage cliques when it should have focused more on how menacing the witches are to children.

“Hocus Pocus 2” further muddles the plot with a goofy character who calls himself Gilbert the Great (played by Sam Richardson), a magic enthusiast who owns and operates Olde Salem Magic Shoppe. Gilbert has a black cat named Cobweb, who’s cute and lives at the shop, but the cat doesn’t talk like the black cat did in “Hocus Pocus.” (The reason why the black cat talked in “Hocus Pocus” is explained in the beginning of the movie.)

On Halloween, Gilbert tells a group of assembled kids at his shop that the Sanderson sisters were “the most powerful coven who ever lived.” In other words, Gilbert is a superfan of the Sanderson sisters. And to prove how much of a fan he is, Gilbert has the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy proudly on display in a locked case in his shop. Guess who’s going to want to bring back the Sanderson sisters too?

Of course, there would be no “Hocus Pocus 2” if the Sanderson sisters didn’t get revived again. They make their entrance by performing “The Witches Are Back,” to the music of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back,” but with different lyrics. At least “Hocus Pocus 2” had the sense to continue to use the singing talent of Midler in a scene that will delight fans of campy entertainment.

However, “Hocus Pocus 2” continually mishandles the depictions of why these three witches are supposed to be so dangerous. In “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson sisters are constantly craving children to eat. These sister witches, who have extraordinary senses that can detect the presence of children, often use these supersenses to try to hunt down children.

In “Hocus Pocus 2,” the Sanderson witches encounter children, but the witches don’t have the same air of intimidation and make very little attempt to capture any children that are in their way, like the same witches did in the first “Hocus Pocus” movie. Instead, “Hocus Pocus 2” has a silly sequence where Becca and Izzy pretend to be fans of the Sanderson sisters and lure the witches into a Walgreens store to get beauty products, in an attempt to appeal to the witches’ vanity. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

The witches are flabbergasted and fascinated by the Walgreens store’s sliding glass doors (apparently, the witches never knew sliding glass doors existed in 1993), which is one of the many not-very-funny gags in the movie. When the witches look for tools for riding in the air, Winifred finds a broom at Walgreens. Apparently, it’s the only broom in the store, because Sarah has to make do with a Swiffer WetJet, while Mary uses glowing hover rings.

The Walgreens sequence and other scenes in “Hocus Pocus 2” are just blatant excuses for product/brand placement. The movie also throws in a shameless and rather pointless mention of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” (ABC is owned by Disney, the company behind the “Hocus Pocus” movies.)

Meanwhile, the Sanderson sisters have time to show up on stage during Salem’s annual Halloween carnival to perform their version of Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” Billy the zombie returns in “Hocus Pocus 2” with his own agenda: He wants to clear his name, because he says he never cheated on Winifred, since he says that he was never Winifred’s boyfriend. Mayor Traske also has some of his own unresolved love-life issues from his past: He’s pining over a woman named Sandy, who founded a candy store in Salem called Sandy’s Candy Cauldron, and she’s coming back to Salem to re-open the store.

If this “Hocus Pocus 2” plot sounds very scatter-brained and unadventurous, that’s because it is. Midler, Najimy and Parker are obviously having fun, hamming it up in their roles, but the Sanderson Sisters act more like wannabe cabaret singers in “Hocus Pocus 2” than real witches who are hungry to hunt for children. When the witches finally capture a child (it’s the most obvious person possible, considering the sisters’ feud from the past), this kidnapping arrives so late in the movie, the stakes aren’t as high as they were in “Hocus Pocus.” The visual effects in “Hocus Pocus 2” are mediocre.

The Sanderson sisters are supposed to be over-the-top and ridiculous. In that respect, cast members Midler, Najimy and Parker deliver what they’re expected to deliver in “Hocus Pocus 2,” despite the substandard screenplay. However, the movie’s younger cast members don’t do anything special with their performances in “Hocus Pocus 2,” like Birch did in her scene-stealing performance in “Hocus Pocus.”

Fletcher’s direction of “Hocus Pocus 2” is just too unfocused and unremarkable to make “Hocus Pocus 2” shine in an outstanding way. The movie overall is unable to overcome the “Hocus Pocus 2” screenplay’s many flaws. Simply put: “Hocus Pocus 2” might be satisfactory enough for people with low expectations. But for people who expect better from a sequel that has been talked about for years and took 29 years to get released, “Hocus Pocus 2” will not be casting any enchanting spells.

Disney+ will premiere “Hocus Pocus 2” on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Confess, Fletch,’ starring Jon Hamm

September 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jon Hamm in “Confess, Fletch” (Photo courtesy of Miramax/Paramount Pictures)

“Confess, Fletch”

Directed by Greg Mottola

Some language in Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston, Rome, and Central America, the comedy film “Confess, Fletch” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In his first night at a rented vacation townhouse in Boston, a freelance journalist finds a murdered woman in the living room, he becomes a prime suspect in her murder, and he annoys the police by trying to solve the murder himself.

Culture Audience: “Confess, Fletch” will appeal mainly to people who are star Jon Hamm and fans of author Gregory Mcdonald’s “Fletch” mystery novel series and murder mystery comedies that have wisecracking characters.

Ayden Mayeri and Roy Wood Jr. in “Confess, Fletch” (Photo courtesy of Miramax/Paramount Pictures)

Thanks to a very talented cast, the comedy film “Confess, Fletch” is an adequately entertaining story that should satisfy fans of murder mysteries and the book on which this movie is based. Jon Hamm’s skill for dry wit holds everything together. Without his great sense of comedic timing, the protagonist of “Confess, Fletch” wouldn’t be as interesting to watch.

Directed by Greg Mottola (who co-wrote the “Confess, Fletch” screenplay with Zev Borow), “Confess, Fletch” is adapted from Gregory Mcdonald’s 1976 book of the same title. The movie has been updated to take place in the early 2020s. This update is put to great use involving the movie’s running gag about GPS tracking.

At the beginning of “Confess, Fletch,” Irving Maurice Fletcher (played by Hamm), who prefers to be called by his nickname Fletch, is spending his first night at a rental townhouse in Boston. He goes downstairs to fix himself a drink, she he sees a murdered young woman on the living room floor. The cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head.

Fletch calmly calls 911 to report the murder, and he fixes himself drink. When the police arrive, Fletch appears too casual about everything and immediately falls under suspicion, since he was the only person in the house to find the body. When the estimated time of death is later revealed, Fletch doesn’t have an alibi. To make matters worse for Fletch, his fingerprints are all over the murder weapon: a wine bottle.

The name of the murder victim is Laurel Goodwin (played by Caitlin Zerra Rose), who was an aspiring art dealer or art broker. She was working as a barista while trying to start a career in the art industry. Fletch insists to the police that he never met or saw Laurel before he found her dead in the townhouse. He also says he has no motive to kill this stranger.

The two police officials who are on the case are Sergeant Inspector Morris Monroe (played by Roy Wood Jr.) and his rookie partner Griz (played by Ayden Mayeri), who also goes by the name Gracie. Fletch is the type of person who’s irked that he had to tell these investigators his real full name, but Griz refuses to tell Fletch what her real full name is. Throughout the movie, Fletch plays pranks on Griz, who is more gullible than Inspector Monroe.

Inspector Monroe thinks that Fletch is the most likely suspect, and he’s inclined to arrest Fletch for the murder, but there’s not enough evidence. Instead, Inspector Monroe keeps telling Fletch to make things easy for everyone by confessing to the murder. Instead, Fletch (who has a background in investigative journalism) irritates the police by trying to solve the murder himself.

Why is Fletch in Boston? The townhouse was actually rented by Fletch’s new girlfriend Angela De Grassi (played by Lorenza Izzo), a wealthy Italian heiress whom he met in Rome. Angela and Fletch have been dating for only one month. During their whirlwind romance, Angela finds out that several valuable paintings owned by her father have been stolen. And then, her father gets kidnapped. One of the paintings is a Picasso worth $20 million.

Fletch was able to find out that a Boston-based art collector named Ronald Horan (played by Kyle MacLachlan) has bought one of the paintings, but the painting hasn’t been delivered yet. It doesn’t mean that Ronald knows that the paintings have been stolen. Fletch is in Boston to investigate who will be delivering the painting and to find out if Ronald knows that the art has been stolen. Police in Italy are investigating the reported kidnapping of Angela’s father.

In other words, Fletch has tasked himself with two investigations in this story: the investigation of who murdered Laurel Goodwin and the investigation of who stole the De Grassi family paintings. Angela bitterly complains to Fletch that Angela’s stepmother Countess Sylvia De Grassi (played by Marcia Gay Harden) is a gold digger and might have been responsible for this art theft to get a secret fortune from selling the paintings.

Fletch sometimes stumbles and fumbles in his investigations, but he often manages to stay one step ahead of the police. He encounters some eccentric chararacters along the way, including Countess De Grassi, who tries to seduce Fletch in ways the movie deliberately compares to the Mrs. Robinson character in the 1968 film “The Graduate.” Harden (who is American in real life) is hilarious in this Countess De Grassi role, even though Harden’s Italian accent isn’t always believable.

The townhouse is owned by Owen Tasserly (played by John Behlmann), a wealthy heir who has been floundering in life. He tried and failed to be an actor and a restaurant owner. Owen is currently an art dealer who’s in the middle of a contentious divorce and custody battle over his underage daughter. Owen was apparently away on a trip to Europe during the murder, so he has an alibi.

Other characters in the story include Owen’s flaky neighbor Eve (played by Annie Mumolo), who is a talkative stoner with an apparent crush on Owen; Tatiana Tasserly (played by Lucy Punch), Owen’s pretentious and estranged wife; and gruff and sarcastic Frank Jaffe (played by John Slattery), who used to be Fletch’s boss at the Los Angeles Tirbune and who currently works as an editor at the Boston Sentinel. “Mad Men” fans should be pleased that former “Mad Men” stars Hamm and Slattery have a few scenes together in “Confess, Fletch.”

The movie has a breezy tone that plays up Fletch’s “naughty boy” attitude. Fletch is also a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is used for recurring jokes in the film, such as Fletch’s fondness for wearing a Los Angeles Lakers cap and flaunting his Lakers fandom to people in Boston, who are no doubt Boston Celtics fans. Comparisons are inevitable to director Michael Ritchie’s 1985 “Fletch” movie (starring Chevy Chase in the title role), but “Confess, Fletch” and Hamm’s portrayal of Fletch makes this character less of a slapstick buffoon and more of a grizzled wiseass with sex appeal. Overall, “Confess, Fletch” (just like the title character himself) has some flaws and missteps, but the movie’s self-effacing comedy is appealing because it always lets the audience in on the joke.

Miramax/Paramount Pictures released “Confess, Fletch” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Clerks III,’ starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Austin Zajur, Jason Mewes, Rosario Dawson and Kevin Smith

September 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Kevin Smith, Austin Zajur and Trevor Fehrman in “Clerks III” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Clerks III”

Directed by Kevin Smith

Culture Representation: Taking place in Leonardo, New Jersey, the comedy film “Clerks III” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The misfits and eccentrics of the “Clerks” movies have returned—and this time, they’re making a biographical movie about the guy who’s the biggest screwup in the group.

Culture Audience: “Clerks III” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the previous “Clerks” movies and filmmaker Kevin Smith, because those are the viewers who are most likely to understand a lot of the jokes in “Clerks III.”

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith in “Clerks III” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Clerks III” is best enjoyed by people who’ve seen or know about the first two “Clerks” movies. “Clerks III” relies heavily on jokes from previous “Clerks” movies. Therefore, some of the comedy is too repetitive. However, the movie’s zany attitude should please fans of a comedy film that can easily laugh at itself.

Kevin Smith wrote and directed 1994’s “Clerks” (still the best in the series), 2006’s “Clerks II” and 2022’s “Clerks III.” He plays on-again/off-again drug dealer Silent Bob in all three movies, which feature Silent Bob and his buffoonish partner in crime Jay (played by Jason Mewes, who is a longtime, close friend of Smith in real life). All three movies (which take place in Leonardo, New Jersey) revolve around eccentric and goofy clerks who work at small, quick-service stores in an outdoor shopping strip mall.

The two main clerks who are at the center of each movie are best friends Dante Hicks (played by Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (played by Jeff Anderson), who are a stereotypical comedy “odd couple.” Dante is the more serious and “responsible” one of this duo. Randal is the one who’s more impulsive and more likely to make a mess of things. The biggest thing that Dante and Randal have in common is their passion for pop culture, especially anything that would attract a typical Comic-Con attendee.

In the first “Clerks” movie, Dante worked at the convenience store Quick Stop Groceries, which was next door to RST Video, where Randal worked. In “Clerks II,” Dante was the owner of Quick Stop, but Randal accidentally burned down the store after leaving a percolating pot of coffee unattended. The fire also destroyed RST Video, so Dante and Randal took jobs at a fast food restaurant called Mooby’s, where they worked with a teenager named Elias Grover (played by Trevor Fehrman) and Mooby’s manager Rebecca “Becky” Scott (played by Rosario Dawson).

In “Clerks III,” Dante and Randal are still bachelors working at low-paying jobs. Dante is once again the owner and operator of Quick Stop, which is right next door to RST Video, which now has a makeshift sign advertising that it now sells THC products. (In 2021, selling and using marijuana recreationally became legal in New Jersey.) Elias (with Fehrman reprising his role), who is a frequent customer of Quick Stop, has grown up to be a religious fanatic who can’t decide if he wants to be a devout Christian or a devout Satanist.

Becky died in 2006, at the age of 33. Dante, who was romantically involved with Becky in “Clerks II,” is still grieving over her death. Dante sees visions of Becky (with Dawson reprising her role) intermittently throughout “Clerks III,” where Becky imparts words of wisdom to Dante when he’s feeling down. Dante, who is now in his 50s, is battling with having a mid-life crisis, because he feels like he should have accomplished more with his life by now.

In addition to all of these returning characters, “Clerks III” introduces the new character Blockchain Coltrane (played by Austin Zajur), who is Elias’ mostly mute sidekick. Randal quips about Blockchain Coltrane: “It looks like Elias has got his own Silent Bob.” Elias is fixated on the idea of selling kites with the image of Jesus Christ on the kites. Elias thinks that that these kites will be a hit with the public. Dante is very skeptical and reluctant to sell any of these kites in the store.

There are some nods to the first “Clerks” movie in “Clerks III,” such as the opening scene where Dante arrives at Quick Stop to start work for the day, and he scrapes gum off of the front-door lock. (This “gum on a lock” plot device is a significant catalyst for the story in “Clerks.”) In “Clerks III,” there’s also an early scene where Dante, Randal and about six other men play hockey on the roof of Quick Stop, instead of working during the store’s opening hours, as confused and impatient customers line up to get into the store. It’s a reference to a similar scene in the first “Clerks” movie where Randal and Dante goofed off on the store roof instead of working.

The slacker characters of the first “Clerks” movie might be much older now, but it doesn’t mean that they’re much wiser. A lot of the comedy is about all the doltish things that the guys say and do. Any women in the movie mainly serve as foils for some of these shenanigans.

And you know what that means: Becky isn’t the only ex-girlfriend of Dante’s who shows up in “Clerks III.” Dante’s former fiancée Emma Bunting (played by Jennifer Schwalbach Smith), who was in “Clerks II,” makes an appearance. Veronica “Ronnie” Loughran (played by Marilyn Ghigliotti) from the first “Clerks” movie also has a small supporting role in “Clerks III.” Past grudges affect what happens between these characters. Viewers should really know the backstories of these characters in order to understand lot of the jokes.

The main story in “Clerks III” is that Randal has a heart attack, which leads him to rethink his life and what kind of legacy he wants to leave. He comes up with the idea of doing a movie about his life, which he will write and direct and star in, as himself. Randal thinks he’s qualfiied to direct his first movie because he’s watched a lot of movies. Silent Bob, who is hired to be the cinematographer of Randal’s movie, breaks his silence in a hilarious meta monologue referencing the first “Clerks” movie and why it was filmed in black and white.

Of course, Randal being Randal, all sorts of mishaps and mayhem occur during this movie shoot, which Randal wants to film mainly at Quick Stop. Dante starts to feel alienated by Randal acting like an egotistical director. Dante also feels like he’s being sidelined in the movie’s script. And all of the other characters get involved with their own agendas.

“Clerks III” has very much a vibe of, “The gang’s all back together, and let’s put a lot of famous people in this movie too.” There are numerous celebrity cameos in “Clerks III,” including Ben Affleck, Amy Sedaris, Justin Long, Danny Trejo, Fred Armisen, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Michelle Buteau and Anthony Michael Hall. No one does a terrible acting performance in the movie, but no one is particularly outstanding either.

One of the charms of the first “Clerks” movie is that it was obviously made by people who had no idea that the film would become a cult classic and launch the career of Smith. “Clerks III” has a little too much self-awareness for its own good. There’s a lot of fan servicing in “Clerks III” that won’t sit very well with people who have no knowledge of the first two “Clerks” movies. However, if people have enough knowledge of pop culture, they should gets some laughs out of “Clerks III,” which sometimes overloads on mentioning trendy things from the early 2020s that that will inevitably become very outdated.

What saves “Clerks III” from being an annoying rehash of the first two “Clerks” movies is the way the movie ends. Some people might be expecting this ending, because it’s an ending that Smith has talked about before in interviews. Other viewers might be caught off guard by the movie’s final scenes. This ending gives “Clerks III” an emotional substance that viewers will remember much more than the movie’s many trash-talking, throwaway jokes.

Lionsgate and Fathom Events are releasing “Clerks III” in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement from September 13 to September 18, 2022.

Review: ‘See How They Run’ (2022), starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Harris Dickinson, Reece Shearsmith and David Oyelowo

September 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in “See How They Run” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“See How They Run” (2022)

Directed by John Patton Ford

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, mostly in 1953, the comedy/drama film “See How They Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asian people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A jaded police inspector and his rookie partner, who have opposite personalities and contrasting styles of working, investigate serial murders that appear to be linked to the planned-for movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play “The Mousetrap.” 

Culture Audience: “See How They Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that are inspired by Agatha Christie mystery novels.

Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Sian Clifford, Pearl Chanda, Jacob Fortune Lloyd, David Oyelowo and Ania Marson in “See How They Run” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“See How They Run” doesn’t quite reach the classic heights of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which are this comedy/drama movie’s admitted inspirations. However, it’s worth watching for the entertaining performances and clever observations of showbiz. The last third of “See How They Run” stumbles a bit in how the mystery is revealed, but it doesn’t take away from the movie’s overall appeal to viewers who are interested in British movies that poke fun at the entertainment industry in a story about solving crimes.

“See How They Run” is the feature-film directorial debut of Tom George, who is known for directing in British television. His TV credits include his BAFTA-winning work directing the BBC comedy show “The Country,” as well as the BBC comedy “Defending the Guilty.” His keen sense of comedic timing serves “See How They Run” very well, since most Agatha Christie-styled movies definitely do not have the screwball comedy qualities that are in “See How They Run.” Mark Chappell wrote the “See How They Run” screenplay, which is better at crafting characters than it is as explaining some of the unanswered questions in this murder mystery.

Every movie inspired by Agatha Christie’s writing has a fairly large ensemble of characters who are considered suspects or persons of interests in the murder case until the real killer or killers can eventually be revealed. The body count in “See How They Run” is a lot lower than a typical story of this ilk, but that just makes it more intriguing to guess who’s behind the murders. Fortunately, the movie isn’t cluttered with too many chararacters, so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is.

“See How They Run,” which is set primarily in 1953 London, also balances multiple layers, because it’s a story with several flashbacks, as well as a whodunit that’s directly tied to the real-life, long-running West End production of Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” Although most of the characters in “See How They Run” are fictional, some of the characters are based on real people, including Christie herself. The movie does a better job at handling the flashbacks than it does in trying to show parallels between “The Mousetrap” and the original screenplay for “See How They Run.”

“See How They Run” opens with a scene that is later referred to in flashbacks. In 1953, on London’s West End, several people have gathered for a nighttime party at the Dominion Theatre, to celebrate the 100th performance of “The Mousetrap.” Among the partiers are members of the cast and some people who are involved in making a feature film version of “The Mousetrap,” including American director Leo Köpernick (played by Adrien Brody), who has been blacklisted in Hollywood, due to the Red Scare targeting suspected Communists.

The night of this party will also be the last night of Leo’s life, since he will be murdered in a backstage costume shop by a mystery person wearing a trench coat, a mask and a fedora. The murderer definitely looks like a man, but with these mystery stories, the killer’s gender can’t always be presumed. At first, Leo is attacked by the murderer trying to strangle Leo with a wire. Leo breaks free, but is killed when the murderer beats him to with a fire extinguisher.

A now-dead Leo then provides intermittent narration for the rest of the movie. Not everyone who watches this movie will like this “voice from the dead” narration. However, it’s a director choice that’s quite unconventional and provides a perspective that doesn’t make things easy for viewers, because Leo is eventually exposed as a sleazy character who might be an unreliable narrator.

The two cops who end up being the primary investigators for Leo’s murder are two very opposite people: Inspector Stoppard (played by Inspector Sam Rockwell) is a world-weary alcoholic, who approaches the investigation with a skepticism where he doesn’t come to any conclusions until he sees indisputable evidence. Constable Stalker (played by Saiorse Ronan) is an eager-to-please rookie who’s an Irish immigrant with a tendency to jump to conclusions without hard evidence.

Predictably, Stoppard and Stalker often clash, with Stoppard embodying the cliché of an older cop who’s forced to work with a younger cop and is frequently annoyed by the younger cop in the process. It doesn’t help that Stoppard is very sexist and doesn’t believe that police detective work is a job that women can do as well as men. The supervisor for Stoppard and Stalker is a police commissioner named Harrold Scott (played by Tim Key), who is more concerned about his own public-relations image and career ambitions than he is about getting justice for the crimes investigated by his department.

It isn’t long before Stoppard and Stalker have a group of people to interview and investigate. They include:

  • Petula “Choo” Spencer (played by Ruth Wilson), the no-nonsense producer/chief investor of “The Mousetrap” play. It’s later revealed that she has a motive to prevent the movie version of “The Mousetrap” from getting made.
  • Mignon Saunders (played by Ania Marson), Petula’s eccentric mother. Mignon doesn’t say much, but does that mean she knows more than she’s telling?
  • John Woolf (played by Reece Shearsmith), the wealthy film producer of “The Mousetrap” movie. (This character is based on the real John Woolf.) John is the person who decided to hire Leo, because of Leo’s talent and track record of making award-winning films.
  • Ann Saville (played by Pippa Bennett Warner), John’s administrative assistant and his mistress. Ann is every much in love with John and expects him to eventually divorce his wife and marry Ann.
  • Edana Romney (played by Sian Clifford), John’s wife, who considers herself to be an amateur psychic. It’s revealed in the movie if she knows about John’s affair with Ann.
  • Mervyn “Merv” Cocker-Norris (played by David Oyelowo), the pompous screenwriter for “The Mousetrap” movie. Mervyn and Leo were feuding because Leo didn’t like Mervyn’s script, but Mervyn refused to do a rewrite. Not long before Leo was murdered, Leo and Mervyn had a very public argument where Mervyn threatened to kill Leo.
  • Giovanni “Gio” Bigotti (played by Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), Mervyn’s Italian lover, who is fairly quiet and very supportive of Mervyn. Giovanni and Mervyn are a gay couple in a “don’t ask, don’t tell way,” where they don’t make it obvious but they don’t try to hide the nature of their relationship either.
  • Dennis (played by Charlie Cooper), a Dominion Theatre usher who reported that he saw a “suspicious”-looking man lurking in the area where Leo’s murdered body was found.
  • Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (played by Harris Dickinson), the hotshot actor who’s the star of “The Mousetrap” play. Based on the real Attenborough, this character wants to do everything possible to keep the play going
  • Sheila Sim (played by Pearl Chanda), Dickie’s actress wife (based on the real Sheila Sim), whose career has become overshadowed by Dickie’s. Sheila and Dickie, who are co-stars in “The Mousetrap” play, have been experiencing some problems in their marriage, and their relationship has become somewhat strained.

World-renowned mystery writer Christie (played by Shirley Henderson) makes an appearance in the last third of the movie and does something awkward that isn’t handled very well or is made believable, considering that she is a crime aficionado. This tricky scene is played for laughs, but it could have been thought out in a much better way. Her devoted husband Max Mallowan (played by Lucian Msamati) and her prickly butler Fellowes (played by Paul Chahidi) also make appearances toward the end of the movie.

Constable Stalker is often a bundle of nervous energy when she’s with Inspector Stoddard. She talks quickly and is eager to share her knowledge of movies (she’s a big fan) and crime novels, but he shows disdain for this fiction entertainment influencing her thoughts as police investigator. Later, when Constable Stalker and Inspector Stoddard spend some time alone together, they open up to each other about their personal lives. She’s a widow with a son and a daughter. He’s divorced (his wife left him) with no children. Constable Stalker eventually finds out about Inspector Stoddard’s alcoholism and sees how vulnerable his alcoholism makes him.

Of course, every murder mystery reveals secrets about the people who are being investigated. Leo is not a sympathetic victim. The police find out that he has a long history of sexually harassing and possibly sexually assaulting women. Leo kept meticulous records of the women he encountered.

As an example of Leo being a sexual predator, he was staying at the luxury Savoy Hotel (in a suite paid for by John), where the maids eventually refused to go in Leo’s suite because of how badly he was sexually harassing them. On the night that Leo was murdered, he and Dickie got into a huge physical brawl in front of the party crowd. The fight happened because Leo sexually propositioned Sheila, by implying that Leo would cast her in “The Mousetrap” movie if she had sex with him.

“See How They Run” is filmed and performed much like how this movie would look if it really were filmed in 1953. This type of retro filmmaking won’t appeal to everyone, but the movie does a competent job of recreating the British culture, fashion and production design of that era. There are signs and not-so-subtle indications that Constable Stalker is an outsider not just because she’s a woman in a very male-dominated field but also because she’s an Irish immigrant living in the England.

Rockwell and Ronan, who are both talented in whatever they do, have a crackling chemistry as Stoppard and Stalker that intentionally starts off as uncomfortable to watch but becomes somewhat endearing as Stoppard and Stalker begin to trust each other in this “odd couple” police partnership. Oyelowo is also a standout because he looks like he’s having fun playing the pretentious and flamboyant Mervyn, who has some of the best lines in the movie.a

“See How They Run” falters with a few murky plot developments that raise questions that aren’t really answered. One of them involves the identity of Stoppard’s ex-wife. However, the movie does effectively lampoon a lot of the stereotypes of murder mystery movies, such as the use of flashbacks and using the most obvious suspects as red herrings. There are also many satirical moments about what showbiz people say and do in pursuit of fame, fortune and power.

Are there much better murder mystery movies in the world? Of course. “See How They Run” isn’t among the cream of the crop. However, for people who are inclined to like this genre and like watching talented cast members who give capable performances, this movie can offer some enjoyable escapism.

Searchlight Pictures will release “See How They Run” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2022.

 

Review: ‘Unfavorable Odds,’ starring Grayson Berry, Maria Tornberg, Charles Malik Whitfield and Charles Ambrose

September 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Maria Tornberg and Grayson Berry in “Unfavorable Odds” (Photo courtesy of Atlas Distribution)

“Unfavorable Odds”

Directed by Boogievision

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

Culture Clash: A married man makes a $5,000 bet with his rich playboy bachelor friend that this ladies’ man won’t be able to seduce his wife. 

Culture Audience: “Unfavorable Odds” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching bad acting in a terrible and monotonous film that looks like it’s a behind-the-times TV movie.

Charles Malik Whitfield and Charles Ambrose in “Unfavorable Odds” (Photo courtesy of Atlas Distribution)

The title of the atrocious romantic comedy “Unfavorable Odds” can also describe viewers’ chances of enjoying this outdated, sexist, garbage dump of a movie. It’s very boring and amateurly made in every single way. “Unfavorable Odds” isn’t even self-aware trash, like other bad comedies about marital infidelity temptation. “Unfavorable Odds” has the tone of a movie that has no idea how stupid and off-putting it is, which makes watching this junk even more unbearable.

“Unfavorable Odds” is directed by Michael “Boogie” Pinckney, who calls himself Boogievision for the movie’s director credit. That should tell you right there how obnoxious and pretentious this movie is, when it’s really just a low-quality cesspool of foolishness. “Unfavorable Odds” has three people credited as the movie’s screenwriters: Corey Toney, Edna Janeen White and Tony D. White. All it means is that it took three people to come up with a movie concept and dialogue so vacuous, all of it could been churned out by one dimwitted screenwriter, or even a half-functioning, obsolete robotic machine.

Everything about “Unfavorable Odds” looks like it was a moldy idea from the 20th century that some misguided people decided to make into a movie and release in theaters. “Unfavorable Odds” definitely isn’t worth the price of a movie ticket or even worth anyone’s time, even if someone were stuck in a room with nothing do but watch “Unfavorable Odds.” The movie is so dull, it could put viewers to sleep. But even that’s not a good option, because “Unfavorable Odds” is aggressively idiotic, and people should not feel aggravated before they go to sleep.

In “Unfavorable Odds,” workaholic businessman Brad Wilson (played by Grayson Berry) spends most of the movie giving half-hearted excuses for why he’s an inattentive husband to his loyal and long-suffering wife Victoria Wilson (played by Maria Tornberg), who is a freelance interior decorator. Brad and Victoria, who live in Dallas and are in their 40s, have been trying unsuccessfully to start a family. The movie never states how long they’ve been married.

When the movie begins, Victoria is frustrated because, once again, Brad has made his job a priority over their marriage. The movie never goes into details about what Brad does for a living, but he works as some kind of financial advisor or financial planner in a high-rise corporate office. Brad and Victoria have an appointment to visit a fertility doctor, but Brad forgot about the appointment and made plans to spend time with a business client instead.

Victoria seems to be accustomed to Brad’s flakiness when it comes to their relationship. She’s annoyed that Brad hasn’t made himself available for this appointment. She agrees to reschedule the appointment, but demands that Brad make up for this inconvenience in some way that will please her. When the appointment is rescheduled, viewers get a clearer sense of how much of a jerk Brad is.

The appointment is with a fertility specialist named Dr. Young (played by Sky Crystal), who is under the age of 40. Apparently, having a young, good-looking doctor bothers Brad. When Brad and Victoria are alone in the exam room, Brad immediately goes on a very unfunny rant about how Dr. Young is an accurate name.

Brad says to Victoria, “We’ve got Doogie Howser as our doctor.” It’s a reference to “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” the 1989 to 1993 TV series, starring Neil Patrick Harris as a child prodigy doctor. When was this “Unfavorable Odds” screenplay written? The late 20th century?

The “joke” is on Brad, because Dr. Young goes back in the room and lets it be known in a good-natured way that he heard everything that Brad said. The doctor says that, for the record, he’s 33 years old. This scene is supposed to be funny, but it just falls flat.

Valentine’s Day happens soon after Victoria wants Brad to make amends for rescheduling their fertility doctor appointment. Brad goes to a department store with his two best friends, and they are all shopping to buy Valentine’s Day gifts for the ladies in their lives. Brad’s two bachelor pals, who are also his co-workers, have very different approaches to dating women.

Wes (played by Charles Ambrose) is an arrogant, rich playboy who brags about being able to successfully date multiple women at the same time. Kenny (played by Charles Malik Whitfield, also known as Malik Whitfield, also known) is a sarcastic pessimist who isn’t as confident as Wes when it comes to dating. A running “joke” in the movie is that Kenny tends to choose women who berate him, stalk him, and accuse him of cheating.

At the department store, Wes picks out multiple selections of lingerie for all of the women he’s dating. Brad’s Valentine’s Day gift to Victoria is a CD of Duran Duran’s greatest hits. (Again: What year was this screenplay written? When was the last time you saw CDs sold at a brick-and-mortar department store?) Victoria likes the gift, but Wes could have chosen something more romantic for Valentine’s Day.

When Brad whines to Kenny about how he’s afraid that Victoria has gotten bored with their marriage, Kenny quips sardonically, “No vacations, no kids, crappy gifts—yeah, you’re a keeper.” Brad feels very insecure and jealous when he compares his own life to Wes’ life.

Brad and Wes often act more like enemies than like friends. It’s revealed much later in the movie (not until the last 20 minutes) that Wes and Brad have known each other since they were kids, and they’ve have had a longtime rivalry where Brad always felt overshadowed by Wes. It’s an example of how poorly written this movie’s screenplay, because this personal backstory isn’t mentioned until the movie is almost over.

“Unfavorable Odds” has too many lackluster comedy gags to mention. One of them involves multiple scenes of Brad’s British boss Nigel (played by Brian Hokanson), who is very touch-feely with Brad, much to Brad’s discomfort. Kenny jokes to Brad that Nigel could be sexually interested in Brad. Later in the movie, when they’re all in a conference room meeting together, Brad gets “revenge” on Kenny for this teasing, by telling Nigel that Kenny wants Nigel to touch Kenny the way that Nigel touches Brad. It’s supposed to be this movie’s idea of “comedy.”

The rivalry between Brad and Wes is taken to a crass level that makes Victoria an unwitting pawn in their male ego posturing. One day, Brad gets fed up with hearing Wes boast about how successful Wes is in seducing any woman he wants. And so, Brad makes a $5,000 bet with Wes that Wes will not able to seduce Victoria in 10 days.

“Unfavorable Odds” wants to be salacious but also wants to play it too safe. Brad places one big condition on this bet: Wes has to seduce Victoria into wanting to have sex with Wes, but there can’t actually be any sexual contact between Wes and Victoria. The movie’s title comes from Brad’s belief that Brad has unfavorable odds of winning the bet, because of Wes’ track record of seduction.

Wes shows a shred of decency by asking Brad if he really wants to make a bet that could destroy the marriage of Brad and Victoria. Brad insists that they make the bet, so Wes agrees, with a little reluctance. Brad then gets paranoid that Wes will win the bet, so the majority of the “Unfavorable Odds” consists of Brad’s idiotic and pathetic stalking of Wes and Victoria.

As part of his seduction plan, Wes hires Victoria to do a high-paying interior decorating job for him. It’s a job she eagerly accepts. At one point, Wes whisks Victoria away on his private jet to New York City, where Wes says they need to pick out some art and furniture for this interior decorating project. Guess who follows Wes and Victoria to New York?

Everything in “Unfavorable Odds” plays out like an ignorant child’s version of how adults would act in this highly manipulative “game” that Brad has set up for his unsuspecting wife. Brad goes to the same places as Wes and Victoria, but ducks behind walls or holds things up to his face so they can’t see him when he’s just a few feet away. It all just looks so unrealistic and not amusing at all.

There are scenes that make absolutely no sense and are sloppily staged. For example, while in the New York City hotel where Wes and Victoria are staying, stalker Brad steals a hotel maid’s cleaning cart from a hallway so he can sneak into Wes’ hotel room. The maid chases after him, and the scene then cuts to Brad in Wes’ hotel room, with no mention for how Brad got inside the room.

Was Brad able to get a master key? Why didn’t the maid contact hotel security? And even though Brad eventually buys small surveillance cameras to spy on Wes and Victoria, the movie tries to ignore the fact that Brad can’t place secret cameras everywhere that Wes and Victoria are alone together. There are too many unanswered questions that “Unfavorable Odds” is too dumb too answer.

The acting in “Unfavorable Odds” is mostly awkward and terrible. Whitfield is the movie’s only principal cast member who comes close to having comedic timing that’s competent. The movie, which has substandard editing, rushes in a plot development for Wes in the last 10 minutes. Almost everything about this movie looks extremely phony.

And to make matters worse, Victoria is written as a woman who is easily fooled and manipulated by Brad and Wes, who don’t have much respect for her. There’s a very backwards, misogynistic and distasteful tone to “Unfavorable Odds,” because of the movie’s concept that a husband bets with money on his wife’s sexuality, in order to stroke his own ego. This bet isn’t about Victoria. This bet is about Brad, his vanity, and his need to prove to Wes that Brad is in total control of Victoria in their marriage.

Brad thinks that he’s so desirable, Victoria wouldn’t dare be sexually seduced by another man, even though he knows his marriage to Victoria is on shaky ground because he hasn’t been paying enough attention to her. It’s implied throughout the movie that if Victoria wants to cheat on Brad with Wes, then she’s the one who will get all the blame and the punishment. Brad is the type of narcissistic husband who would do something awful to his wife and then would say to her, “You made me do it.”

In other words, there are no real winners in this “bet,” even though “Unfavorable Odds” desperately tries to make viewers root for selfish and moronic Brad. If anyone has the misfortune of choosing to watch “Unfavorable Odds” with the expectation that it might be entertaining, that is a bet that people will lose, along with any time or money wasted on watching this nonsense.

Atlas Distribution released “Unfavorable Odds” in select U.S. cinemas on September 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Moon Man’ (2022), starring Shen Teng and Ma Li

September 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

King Kong Roo and Shen Teng in “Moon Man” (Photo courtesy of Far East Films)

“Moon Man” (2022)

Directed by Zhang Chiyu

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the year 2033, and briefly in 2043, on the moon and on Earth, the sci-fi/comedy/drama film “Moon Man” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A maintenance worker, who’s part of an astronaut crew on the moon, accidentally gets left behind on the moon in an emergency departure, and he becomes a symbol of hope after Earth experiences an apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “Moon Man” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of sci-fi movies and movies about human survival that blend goofy comedy with poignant drama.

Ma Li in “Moon Man” (Photo courtesy of Far East Films)

Although the comedy in “Moon Man” sometimes gets a little too silly and repetitive for its own good, this sci-fi flick has enough memorable characters, intriguing plot developments, and heartfelt dramatic moments to be entertaining and emotionally stirring. “Moon Man” is not the type of movie that will win major awards for technical achievements or acting. It’s a crowd-pleasing film that takes some familiar elements of “stranded survivor” stories and delivers a unique spin that people of many different generations can enjoy.

Written and directed by Zhang Chiyu, “Moon Man” is based on South Korean illustrator Cho Seok’s comic book series “Moon You.” The movie alternates between showing what happens on the moon and what happens on Earth. “Moon Man” begins in 2033, by showing an astronaut team from China that’s stationed on the moon for an exploration project called UNMS Project.

There are 300 people on this team. Their mission is to explore the moon and look into possibilities that the moon could be inhabited by human beings, in case there’s an apocalypse on Earth. A massive meteorite has been detected in the universe, and scientist believe that this meteorite is headed in Earth’s direction. The team’s temporary moon home is named UNMS Base.

One of the people on the team is Dugu Yue (played by Shen Teng), who is considered to be one of the lowest-ranking team members because he’s a maintenance worker. Dugu Yue is a “regular guy” who is often ignored by the higher-ranked members of the team. He has a secret crush on the team’s no-nonsense leader, Ma Lanxing (played by Ma Li), a female astronaut who doesn’t think much of Dugu Yue in the beginning of the story.

One day, all of the UNMS Project spaceships are summoned to return to Earth for an emergency: the detected meteorite is heading to Earth much earlier than expected. In the chaos that ensues, Dugu Yue is out driving in his moon buggy, when all the spaceships leave, and he is accidentally left behind on the now-abandoned UNMS Base. Dugu Yue feels hurt and rejected. He tries to communicate with the command station on Earth, but the communication equipment doesn’t work. (He finds out why, later in the movie.)

Dugu Yue can see Earth from where he is on the moon. His hope of being rescued gets crushed when sees that shortly after his colleagues have landed on Earth, the meteorite has hit Earth, and large portions of Earth have exploded. Dugu Yue has no idea how many people survived, but it’s obvious that Earth is now experiencing an apocalypse.

It turns out that most of Dugu Yue’s colleagues did survive. They are holed up in an astronaut compound, where they can see and hear Dugu Yue on video monitors, but he can’t see and hear them. Ma Lanxing is one of the survivors.

Dugu Yue has plenty of food and water to last for several months, but he has to find a way to survive on his own until he can go back to Earth. It’s later revealed in the movie that when he was living on Earth, Dugu Yue was a loner who had no friends, loved ones or other family members for most of his childhood into his adulthood. His lonely life explains why no one except his colleagues are the only ones who know or care that he’s stranded on the moon.

Left to his own devices, Dugu Yue initially tries to have as much fun by himself. He does some moon-crater “surfing” on a snowboard, but he takes more than a few tumbles. He tries to hack into his colleagues’ computer equipment that was left behind. And he creates a life-sized cardboard replica of a human body and places a photo of Ma Lanxing’s face on this replica.

This makeshift replica of Ma Lanxing becomes Dugu Yue’s “companion.” He eats meals with it propped up in a nearby chair, and he talks to it like as if it were really Ma Lanxing. During one of these meals, Ma Lanxing confessions to the replica that he’s had a longtime crush on Ma Lanxing. And then he takes some ketchup, puts it on Ma Lanxing’s replica face, and licks the ketchup off of her face.

Meanwhile, Ma Lanxing and her colleagues in the video monitor room are watching these private moments, unbeknownst to Dugu Yue. Most of the colleagues are amused, but Ma Lanxing is not. She’s mortified and embarrassed.

During this apocalypse, many of Earth’s survivors are experiencing despair and depression. Ma Lanxing comes up with an idea that she thinks can bring hope to Earth’s remaining people: She wants to use Dugu Yue as an example of someone who is a hero survivor on the moon.

Ma Lanxing wants to livestream Dugu Yue’s activities to the people on Earth. She also concocts the idea to have a voice actor(played by Huang Zitao) play the role of Dugu Yue, in order to fabricate things that she wants people to think Dugu Yue is saying. It’s a plan that’s so absurd, it works best in an intentional comedy film such as “Moon Man.”

Ma Lanxing reports to Sun Guangyang (played by Li Chengru), the U.N. Shield Contact chairman, who goes along with the idea, with some hesitation and concern that this hoax might backfire. Another colleague who’s on board for this plan is mild-mannered and compassionate Wei Lasi (played by Lamu Yangzi, also known as Jackie Li) and her brash and disrespectful co-worker Zhu Pite (played by Yuan Chang), who is one of the first people to laugh when Dugu Yue does something to embarrass himself.

Meanwhile, Dugu Yue finds out that he’s not alone on UNMS Base. A very special kangaroo has been left behind. This kangaroo is highly intelligent and has very human-like mannerisms. (Fortunately, “Moon Man” does not make the kangaroo an animal that can talk in a human language. We have more than enough movies about talking animals.) Predictably, Dugu Yue and this feisty kangaroo, which he calls King Kong Roo, end up clashing with each other in many comedic moments.

“Moon Man” has several scenes involving slapstick comedy between Dugu Yue and King Kong Roo. The movie’s visual effects look convincing for the space exploration parts of the movie. The visual effects for the King Kong Roo aren’t entirely convincing all the time and can be distracting.

The movie goes in some directions that are more amusing that others. The relationship between Dugu Yue and King Kong Rue takes up a lot of the “Moon Man” story, but viewers will also notice how this “odd couple” also affects the people who are watching on Earth. Ma Lanxing starts off thinking that Dugu Yue is a buffoon, but over time, she begins to respect Dugu Yue.

Shen Teng anchors “Moon Man” with a performance showing his impressive skills at physical comedy, as well as emotional gravitas. The rest of the cast members also do well in their roles. However, Shen’s versatile performance as Dugu Yue will get the biggest reactions from viewers. His lead performance is also the most memorable thing about “Moon Man.”

Doing a comedy/drama movie about an apocalypse is a tricky balance that most films cannot achieve. “Moon Man” has some cringeworthy flaws, but the movie mostly succeeds in mixing comedy/drama tones without making the story too ridiculous or too serious. It’s ultimately a movie that has as much to say about the pitfalls of elevating false idols as it does about how people can find true heroes within themselves.

Far East Films released “Moon Man” in select U.S. cinemas on August 2, 2022. The movie was released in China on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Waiting for Bojangles,’ starring Virginie Efira, Romain Duris and Grégory Gadebois

September 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Romain Duris and Virginie Efira in “Waiting for Bojangles” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Waiting for Bojangles”

Directed by Régis Roinsard

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place briefly in 1958 and mostly in 1967, in France and Spain, the comedy/drama film “Waiting for Bojangles” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A longtime con artist and a seemingly free-spirited woman fall in love and have a son together, but she is battling a serious mental illness that threatens to ruin their relationship.

Culture Audience: “Waiting for Bojangles” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching tonally imbalanced movies that have irresponsible depictions of mental illness.

Solan Machado Graner, Romain Duris and Virginie Efira in “Waiting for Bojangles” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

The cast members look committed to their roles, but the comedy/drama “Waiting for Bojangles” has an off-balance tone that carelessly tries to make mental illness look like a cutesy personality quirk. The movie’s manipulative ending is awful. The only people who will like the ending of “Waiting for Bojangles” are viewers who are willing to go along with and overlook all the bad parenting on display in this annoying movie that tries to make a lot of excuses for adults’ horrendous actions.

Directed by Régis Roinsard, “Waiting for Bojangles” is based on Olivier Bourdeaut’s 2016 novel of the same name. Roinsard and Romain Compingt co-wrote the movie screenplay for “Waiting for Bojangles.” The novel has also been made into a theater production and a comic book geared to adults. On the surface, the movie might look like a lighthearted romantic comedy, but it takes a very dark and unpleasant turn in the last third of the film.

The opening scene in “Waiting for Bojangles” begins in 1958, at an upscale party attended by society people in an unnamed city in southeastern France. The party is being held at a mansion overlooking the French Riviera. A raconteur named George Fouquet (played by Romain Duris) doesn’t know anyone at the party, but that doesn’t stop him from being charming and sociable with the people he meets at this soiree. George smiles a lot and exudes confidence, which make him look attractive and friendly.

Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, viewers will see that George is telling people different stories about who he is. He tells some people that he’s from Romania and that his father was an important auto dealer in Detroit. He tells some other people that he’s originally from Spain.

A few people notice that Georges speaks perfect French, with no trace of an accent from another country, but he has an explanation for every question that people might have about him. Word gets around the party about this intriguing stranger. And before you know it, some of the people who think that Georges is from Romania start speculating that he’s a direct descendant of Count Dracula.

Why is Georges lying about who he is? He’s a longtime con artist, and he’s actually an uninvited guest who crashed this party. One of the first people he meets at this soiree is a pretty and lively blonde woman (played by Virginie Efira), who refuses to tell Georges her name when he asks her. She jokes that her name is Jean-Paul.

Georges tells her that he’ll call her Antoinette, because he says that women named Antoinette are usually glamorous. She takes Georges’ comment as the compliment it was meant to be. And so begins the flirtation and joking banter between Georges and “Antoinette” at this party, where they drink champagne and end up dancing with each other.

“Antoinette” tells Georges that he reminds her of a portrait painting that she has of a handsome Prussian hussar. (As soon as she mentions this painting, you just know this painting will be seen later in the movie.) Georges reacts by making up an entire story about how he is the hussar in the painting, and he proceeds to talk about this fabricated life. “Antoinette” goes along with this obvious joke.

Many of the party attendees begin talking to each other about Georges, so it’s eventually discovered that he’s been telling conflicting stories about himself. Numerous party attendees surround and corner Georges at the same time to demand to know who he really is. Georges admits that he was never invited to this party. And just as he’s about to be thrown out, “Antoinette” jumps into the nearby Mediterranean Sea as a distraction. Georges jumps in after her, to show her that he’s just as much of an impulsive daredevil that she is.

And the next thing you know, Georges and “Antoinette” are driving off in Georges’ car, she suggests they get married, they find an empty chapel somewhere in the mountains, and they “marry” each other in a private, non-legal ceremony with no one else but Georges and “Antoinette” in the room. The chapel just happens to be lighted with candles and “Antoinette” somehow has a white bridal veil, even though the movie never explains where she got that veil. Get used to “Waiting for Bojangles” having a lot of scenes that raise a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

“Waiting for Bojangles” is filled with a lot of these unrealistic scenarios, because the movie tries hard to convince viewers that this relationship started off as a whirlwind, “fairytale” romance. Even after getting “married,” the woman whom Georges calls “Antoinette” still hasn’t told him her real name or anything about herself. “Waiting for Bojangles” keeps pushing the warped idea that this deceit and secrecy are supposed to make the couple’s relationship look exciting, with a hint of danger, when it’s actually just a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

After having sex on the chapel floor, Georges and “Antoinette” spend the night in the chapel. He wakes up to find her gone, and two elderly women looking shocked when they see naked Georges (who somehow found a mattress to sleep on) in the chapel where the two women have arrived to pray. Georges makes a hasty exit, drives back into the nearest town to look for his new “bride,” and within minutes he finds her.

“Antoinette” is really a very troubled woman named Camille. Georges finds out her identity by going to his middle-aged playboy friend Charles (played by Grégory Gadebois), who knows people at the party that Georges crashed. Georges asks Charles to help Georges find this mystery woman. Charles is a member of the French Parliament, and Georges finds him in a hotel room after Charles has been entertaining two women who were Charles’ sexual conquests. It turns out that Charles knows Camille, who works at a flower shop, because she’s a longtime friend of his.

Georges goes to the flower shop where Camille works and sees her in a conflict with her boss (played by Christian Ameri), who accuses her of stealing money. Camille angrily throws a small tub of water at the boss and yells at him, “I quit!” Georges witnesses this spectacle, and he grins as if he’s proud of Camille.

As she walks out of the flower shop in a huff, Georges catches up to Camille and starts talking to her as if he’s not bothered at all that she walked out on him and left him behind at the chapel. Georges confesses to Camille that he’s a chronic liar and a con artist but that he’s fallen madly in love with her. Camille tells Georges, “Congratulations. You’re a scoundrel. I’m the queen of lost causes.”

During this conversation on the street, Georges convinces Camille that they should be a couple, even though she cynically tells him that people rarely end up with the loves of their lives. Georges replies by saying that she hasn’t met the love of her life yet. He predicts that the love of her life will be a son they have together named Gary, named after actor Gary Cooper.

The movie then abruptly fast-forwards nine months later. Camille is in a hospital ward giving birth, while Georges and Charles are in a waiting area outside. Camille gives birth to a boy. And you already know what Georges and Camille will name their son: Gary.

“Waiting for Bojangles” then does another sudden time jump, to 1967. Gary (played by Solan Machado Graner) is now 8 or 9 years old. And he’s being bullied by some boys at school because Gary has inherited his parents’ habit of telling lies and making up grandiose stories about themselves.

There’s a scene in the movie where Camille tells Gary, “When reality is a banal and sad, make up a fabulous story.” In other words, she’s advising her son to tell lies to escape from reality. It’s a horrible way to teach a child to cope with life’s difficulties.

Eventually, it’s also revealed that Camille (who is a homemaker) doesn’t really care if Gary attends school on a regular basis. Instead, she is more concerned about making Gary think that life can be one big party with no real responsibilities. And for a while, Camille and Georges live this way, by throwing large and boisterous house parties with eclectic groups of people that range from aristocrats to working-class poor people as guests at the same party.

Georges has gotten an unnamed sales job that barely pays for this lavish lifestyle that Camille and Georges want to have. Camille doesn’t really like that Georges has the responsibility of an office job with strict working hours, but she tolerates it as long as she thinks Georges doesn’t become too “boring” for her. Georges just want to make Camille happy.

Because Gary has no friends and Camille doesn’t seem to care that he’s socially isolated, Camille gets him a Demoiselle crane named Miss Superfétatoire, nicknamed Mademoiselle. The movie never explains how this Demoiselle crane came into the family’s possession, but it’s treated like a dog that they walk around on leash. This Demoiselle crane becomes Gary’s closest friend. Charles pops in and out of this family’s life, usually to help out when things get rough for Camille and Georges.

Things eventually do come crashing down for this family. And not just because Georges and Camille get heavily in debt. Camille has a secret that Charles already knows about but eventually Georges finds out when he sees her sudden and extreme mood swings. She has a mental illness that is not named in the movie, but it looks like bipolar disorder, based on what Camille says and does. And she does some heinous things that put herself and other people in danger.

“Waiting for Bojangles” gets its name from the fact that “Mr. Bojangles” is Camille’s favorite song since childhood, because it reminds her of happier times in her youth. Camille and Georges also dance to this song as often as possible because they consider it to be their couple’s song. The problem with this plot device is that in real life, “Mr. Bojangles” was originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1969 and released in 1970—after the events in this movie take place. It’s one of many sloppy aspects of the writing in “Waiting for Bojangles.”

In real life, artists such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone and Bob Dylan had well-known cover versions of “Mr. Bojangles” in the 1970s. People with knowledge of this music history might be confused over why “Mr. Bojangles,” which wasn’t released until the 1970s and is most associated with the 1970s, is supposed to be a childhood favorite song of a movie character who was supposed to be born sometime in the 1930s. The “Waiting for Bojangles” novel is set in the 2010s, and is told from the perspectives of Gary as a child and his father. The “Waiting for Bojangles” movie foolishly changes the time period setting to the 1950s and 1960s, even though the movie’s centerpiece song is a 1970s song.

The production notes for “Waiting for Bojangles” has a Q&A-formatted interview with “Waiting for Bojangles” director Roinsard, who says he chose to have the movie take place in the 1950s and 1960s, because “I have a weakness for these two decades … and the ’80s too.” Roinsard also says in this interview that he wanted to have the movie take place during a time before cell phones existed. Then why not just set the movie in the 1980s, and have it be Camille’s favorite song from her younger years? At least the 1980s would be a decade where the “Mr. Bojangles” song existed in real life.

The incorrect timeline for the “Mr. Bojangles” song is not the only thing very wrong with the “Waiting for Bojangles” movie. It drags on for too long, with a total running time of 124 minutes. At least 20 minutes could have been cut from the movie if the filmmakers decided to shorten some of the repetitive party scenes that don’t do much for the story. The pacing becomes tedious in scenes where it’s just a rehash of Camille and Georges trying to avoid their obvious troubles.

The cast members’ performances aren’t really a problem, although at times the acting is too affected and self-aware of the cameras. As the volatile and unpredictable Camille, Efira does what she’s supposed to do in portraying a mentally ill person who goes through a wide range of emotions. Duris is quite watchable as Georges, until his character becomes a bit too one-note. Viewers with enough life experience will not see the Georges/Camille love affair as endearing but will see it for what it really is: a dysfunctional and delusional train wreck.

The movie doesn’t give a lot of background information to explain why Georges and Camille ended up as they people they are in this story. The only thing that viewers will learn about the people who knew Georges before he met Camille is that he briefly mentions that his parents have now disowned him because he and Camille are living together and have started a family without being married. (In the “Waiting for Bojangles” book, the couple is legally married.) The movie tells absolutely nothing about where Camille comes from and who were her loved ones before meeting Georges.

The movie’s character development is very flimsy. Camille becomes increasingly unstable, while Georges (who’s often in denial about Camille’s mental illness) becomes an increasingly helpless bystander to Camille’s out-of-control meltdowns. The strain of taking care of a mentally ill partner eventually diminishes a lot of Georges’ zest for life, although he tries to put up a happy front for Gary. The movie doesn’t have character development as much as it just has a series of scenes where this family has to deal with chaos (almost always inflicted by Camille) that gets worse over time.

“Waiting for Bojangles” has a tinge of misogyny, because Camille is the only female character with a significant speaking role in the movie—and she’s a mess with a violent temper. For example, when a male debtor stops by the family home to tell Camille and Georges that they’re about to lose their home, Camille reacts by viciously beating this stranger with an umbrella until he leaves in fear. Georges witnesses this crime but does nothing to stop it and does nothing to admonish Camille for this cruel violence. After a while, the movie turns Camille from a loving but difficult woman into a problematic and dangerous quasi-villain.

“Waiting for Bojangles” is also a very “straight male gaze” film, because even though Camille and Georges have nude scenes, only Camille has full-frontal nudity in the movie. It’s a double standard that implies that male directors don’t want to see the genitals of their male actors on screen, but these male directors tell their female actors to get fully naked and show their entire nude bodies on screen. This double standard is usually an example of sexist exploitation of women by directors.

Although the movie has the benefit of some gorgeous cinematography and aesthetically pleasing production design, “Waiting for Bojangles” has a very off-putting way of telling the human part of the story. It starts off as an absurdist romantic comedy and ends up as a heavy-handed tragedy, with a final scene that is overly contrived to be a tearjerker. Avoid watching “Waiting for Bojangles” if you don’t want to see a very misguided and borderline offensive portrayal of mental illness.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Waiting for Bojangles” in select U.S. cinemas on September 2, 2022. The movie was released in France on January 5, 2022.

Review: ‘Funny Pages,’ starring Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Miles Emanuel, Josh Pais, Maria Dizzia, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Ron Rifkin

September 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Matthew Maher and Daniel Zolghadri in “Funny Pages” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Funny Pages”

Directed by Owen Kline

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Jersey, the comedy/drama film “Funny Pages” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A teenager defies his parents’ wishes by dropping out of high school and moving out of the family home to become a professional comic-book illustrator, and he meets a very eccentric would-be mentor along the way.

Culture Audience: “Funny Pages” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in low-key, quirky comedy/drama movies about comic book enthusiasts.

Daniel Zolghadri, Michael Townsend Wright and Miles Emanuel in “Funny Pages” (Photo courtesy of A24)

The comedy/drama “Funny Pages” is a very offbeat love letter to comic book fanatics and the extreme decisions some artists will make to pursue their dreams. The movie’s tone is inspired more by Charlie Kaufman than by Kevin Smith. “Funny Pages” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

“Funny Pages” is the feature-film directorial debut of writer/director Owen Kline, who is also known as an actor who had roles in 2001’s “The Anniversary Party” and 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale,” when Kline was a child. These experiences as a child actor no doubt informed the creation of “Funny Pages” protagonist Robert Bleichner (played by Daniel Zolghadri), an eccentric teen who wants to grow up fast and become an illustrator of comic books and comic strips that have sexually explicit, raunchy comedy.

Robert, who’s about 16 or 17 years old, lives with his parents Lewis (played by Josh Pais) and Jennifer (played by Maria Dizzia) in a typical middle-class home in Princeton, New Jersey. The beginning of “Funny Pages” is an indication of some of the weirdness throughout the movie. Robert is in a private meeting at the home of his art teacher Mr. Katano (played by Stephen Adly Guirgis), who is a fan of the type of rude and raunchy illustrations that Robert wants to draw.

Robert confides in Mr. Katano that he plans to drop out of high school, because Robert thinks that the places where he wants to work will only care about his talent and portfolio, not if he has a high school diploma. However, Mr. Katano doesn’t think that Robert has a strong-enough identity that comes through in Robert’s drawings. Mr. Katano tells Robert: “Everything in your portfolio needs to be clearly coming from who you are … Who do you draw for?”

Robert doesn’t have a definite answer to that question. Mr. Katano knows that Robert likes to draw pictures of naked people. The meeting takes a very unorthodox turn when Mr. Katano asks Robert if he wants to draw Mr. Katano. Robert says yes, and without hesitation, Mr. Katano taks off all of his clothes, except for a pair of socks. He stands up on his desk and tells Robert to do a nude sketch of him. Robert is a little surprised, but he does the sketch with a little discomfort.

Even though there was nothing sexual about Mr. Katano’s offer, it’s still extremely inappropriate for a teacher to get naked in front of an underage child who’s a student of the teacher’s. Mr. Katano knows it, and he has second thoughts about what he just did, especially after Robert finishes the sketch and quickly leaves because Robert says that he has to be home by a certain time. While Robert is walking home on a street near an expressway, Robert sees that Mr. Katano is following Robert in Mr. Katano’s car.

With the car window rolled down on the driver’s side, Mr. Katano tells Robert that he wants to make sure that what happened with the nude sketch session wasn’t something that made Robert feel threatened or embarrassed. Robert assures Mr. Katano that he thinks everything is just fine, and that what happened won’t change their student/teacher relationship. And then, out of nowhere, Mr. Katano’s car gets hit by another car speeding in the opposite direction. Mr. Katano is killed instantly.

After the funeral, Robert breaks into Mr. Katano’s home to steal some personal items that he’s sure that Mr. Katano (who lived alone and had no known relatives) would want him to have. A house alarm goes off, and Robert is arrested for the break-in. He has a public defender named Cheryl (played by Marcia DeBonis), who thinks Robert is an adorable and misunderstood kid, even though Robert is not as meek and nice as Cheryl initially thinks he is. She is able to get the charges dismissed by arguing to the court that Robert did the break-in out of grief, and he only took items that he thought were rightfully his. (Apparently, Mr. Katano didn’t leave a will.)

Mr. Katano’s death, Robert’s legal problems and the dismissal of Robert’s criminal case all happen in the first 20 minutes of “Funny Pages” and shown with some choppy editing. By the end of those 20 minutes, viewers will either be turned off from seeing the rest of this movie or curious to see what will happen next with this very unusual teenager. Many people in Robert’s life are skeptical that he will “make it” as a professional illustrator, but he is unwavering in trying to make his dream come true.

Much to his parents’ disapproval, Robert is so eager to get started on this career, he drops out of high school, moves out of the family home, and gets his own place: a rented room in a dirty and dumpy house in Trenton, New Jersey. Robert’s creepy and disheveled landlord Barry (played by Michael Townsend Wright), who also lives in the house, knows that Robert is underage, but Barry doesn’t care as long as Robert pays the rent. Robert shares the room with another weirdo tenant named Steven (played by Cleveland Thomas Jr.), who doesn’t talk much, but when Steven does talk, it’s often out loud to himself.

In his quest to become a comic book illustrator and in order to pay his bills, Robert takes a part-time job working at a comic book store. Robert also gets a part-time job working as an administrative assistant to Cheryl, who is highly amused when she finds out that Robert expresses his naughty side in his illustrations. Robert’s best friend (and only friend) is a former classmate named Miles (played by Miles Emanuel), a mild-mannered nerd who is in awe of Robert being able to have so much independence at a young age.

It’s through Robert’s job with Cheryl that Robert soon meets a hot-tempered, mentally ill man named Wallace Schearer (played by Matthew Maher), who was an assistant colorist at Image Comics. Wallace, who is one of Cheryl’s clients, got into trouble for having an emotional meltdown at a pharmacy and committing vandalism on the property. Robert meets Wallace when Wallace arrives at Cheryl’s office for an appointment.

Even though Wallace clearly has mental health problems, Robert is immediately intrigued when he finds out that Wallace used to work for Image Comics. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Wallace and Robert will go back to the pharmacy where Wallace committed his crime. Former “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” star Louise Lasser makes a disturbing cameo as a drugged-out and drooling pharmacy customer named Linda, who demands that Robert give her a Percocet. Ron Rifkin also makes a brief appearance in “Funny Pages,” as Robert’s unnamed grandfather.

Because of Wallace’s experience working at a well-known comic book publishing company, Robert becomes fixated on getting Wallace to mentor Robert. The rest of “Funny Pages” involves Robert’s strange encounters with people in the Trenton area and his desperate attempts to become Wallace’s student/protégé. Although none of the acting is terrible in “Funny Pages,” don’t expect to see a lot of pleasant characters in this movie.

There’s some violence, nudity and very dark comedy in this odd little film, but for people who are open to this type of movie-watching experience, “Funny Pages” has enough to hold viewers’ interest. “Funny Pages” is both a satire and a tribute to the single-minded passion that can consume artists to express themselves in their art. The movie has several mentions about whether or not an artist’s work has “soul.” In provocative and peculiar ways, “Funny Pages” examines if artists who pour their souls into their work might also lose their souls in the process.

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