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

June 18, 2024

by Carla Hay

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

“The Bikeriders”

Directed by Jeff Nichols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: ‘Run Rabbit Run’ (2023), starring Sarah Snook and Lily LaTorre

July 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sarah Snook and Lily LaTorre in “Run Rabbit Run” (Photo by Sarah Enticknap/Netflix)

“Run Rabbit Run” (2023)

Directed by Daina Reed

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Inglemore, Australia, the horror film “Run Rabbit Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced fertility doctor is disturbed when she finds out that her tween daughter apparently has psychic abilities that involve reincarnation.

Culture Audience: “Run Rabbit Run” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching slow-paced and repetitive horror movies with an obvious storyline.

Lily LaTorre in “Run Rabbit Run” (Photo by Sarah Enticknap/Netflix)

“Run Rabbit Run” is a very stale and unimaginative horror flick that has repetitive and boring scenes of a mother hallucinating and having a bad temper. The story’s “mystery secret” (revealed at the end) is too easy to solve, so there’s hardly any suspense. The movie’s ending is sure to repulse many viewers and seems to only be in the movie for exploitative shock value, not as a meaningful end to a horror story. “Run Rabbit Run” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Directed by Daina Reed and written by Hannah Kent, “Run Rabbit Run” takes place mostly in Inglemore, Australia, where the movie was filmed on location. A fertility doctor named Sarah Gregory (played by Sarah Snook) is successful in her job, but her personal life has had its share of failures. Sarah is divorced and has primary custody of her daughter Mia (played by Lily LaTorre), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Sarah and Mia live in a house that’s in a fairly isolated prairie-like area.

Sarah’s only other living relative is her widowed mother Joan (played by Greta Scacchi), who is in a nursing facility. It soon becomes obvious that Sarah despises Joan. Sarah’s animosity for Joan runs so deep, Sarah has not let Joan meet Mia. In the beginning of the movie, Sarah has planned for Mia to have a very small birthday party, but Joan is obviously not invited. Joan has sent a birthday card to Mia, but Sarah has intercepted the card and burned it without Mia knowing about it.

Mia says to Sarah about Joan: “I miss her.” Sarah abruptly replies, “Isn’t it hard to miss someone you’ve never met?” Mia replies, “I miss people I’ve never met all the time.” It’s at ths point you know that Mia has psychic ablities. Sarah later comes home to find Mia playing with a stray rabbit. This rabbit becomes a symbol for Sarah’s past and all the things that Sarah would like to forget about Sarah’s past.

Sarah’s ex-husband Pete (played by Damon Herriman) has moved on to a new relationship. He has a live-in girlfriend Denise (played by Naomi Rukavina), who has a son named Toby (played by Hugo Soysa) from a previous relationship. Toby is about 4 or 5 years old. Pete, Denise and Toby sometimes visit Sarah and Mia, so that Mia can spend time with Pete and hang out with Toby.

Pete, Denise and Toby have arrived for Mia’s birthday party. Sarah gets in a bad mood at the party because Pete tells her privately that he and Denise are trying to have a biological child together. Sarah has told many people over the years that she has only wanted one child. When Sarah and Pete were married, he agreed to this “one child only” decision. Apparently, Sarah expected Pete to feel the same way after they got divorced, but he’s obviously changed his mind.

The other reason why Sarah gets in a bad mood is because Toby hits Mia for no good reason. Sarah loses her temper and says to Toby, “You little shit.” Denise is naturally upset that Sarah has used this abusive language on Toby instead of resolving the problem in a more productive manner. Privately, Pete tells Sarah that he agrees with her about Toby: “He is a little shit.”

“Run Rabbit Run” has these types of scenes that don’t really go anywhere and have horrendous dialogue. Mia doesn’t have any friends, so Mia becomes attached to her new pet rabbit. Her mother Sarah seems to be very jealous of anything or anyone whom Mia might pay attention to more than Mia pays attention to Sarah.

Sarah gets rid of the rabbit by putting the rabbit over a fence, but the rabbit bites Sarah very hard on her left hand before she drops the rabbit. Mia witnesses this incident from a house balcony and is so upset that she runs away from home. Sarah finds Mia hiding in the playground tunnel. Mia is wearing a simple rabbit face mask that Mia has cut out of paper. This rabbit mask is supposed to be a creepy aspect of the movie, but it’s just a dreadfully dull visual gimmick.

It doesn’t take long for Sarah to see more signs that Mia has psychic abilities. And what Mia tells Sarah starts to put Sarah over the edge of sanity. This is where the horror clichés in “Run Rabbit Run” really kick into high gear, such as the over-used horror cliché of “the female who is not believed, and people start to think she’s mentally ill.” Sarah starts to get angry at Mia and accuses her of making up stories, while Sarah might be having her own disconnect with reality.

“Run Rabbit Run” might have worked better as a short film. The movie drags on and on and on, when you just know that Mia’s psychic abilities will inevitably lead to Mia talking to or talking about someone who has died. (It’s not spoiler information, because “Run Rabbit Run” is marketed as a ghost story.) Sarah has obviously got some major issues and big secrets, which are revealed at the end of the film.

The acting in “Run Rabbit Run” is nothing special, unless it’s the highlight of your life to watch Snook portray an annoying character looking miserable in a subpar horror movie. The movie’s weakest links are the lackluster screenplay and bland direction. “Run Rabbit Run” completely misses the point of a horror movie, which is to scare people, not be so boring that viewers will want to go to sleep.

Netflix premiered “Run Rabbit Run” on June 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway,’ starring Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo and the voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Aimee Horne and Lennie James

June 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

David Oyelowo, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson with Cotton-Tail (voiced by Aimee Horne), Flopsy (voiced by Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debecki), Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) and Benjamin Bunny (voiced by Colin Moody) in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”

Directed by Will Gluck

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of England, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” features a cast of characters representing humans (mostly white, with a few black and Asian people) and animals in working-class and middle-class environments.

Culture Clash: While on a family trip to London, Peter Rabbit separates himself from the rest of the group and falls in with a gang of thieving animals.

Culture Audience: “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight, family-friendly animated entertainment.

Barnabas (voiced by Lennie James), Samuel Whiskers (voiced by Rupert Degas), Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden), Mittens (voiced by Hayley Atwell) and Tom Kitten (voiced by Damon Herriman) in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like the hyper rabbit who’s the title character, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” hops all over the place, as Peter Rabbit becomes more restless about seeing the world outside of his home. This wandering spirit mostly works well in this affable sequel. And fortunately, people don’t have to see 2018’s “Peter Rabbit” movie to understand or enjoy this follow-up movie. The movies are based on the beloved Beatrix Potter children’s book series.

“Peter Rabbit” director/co-writer/producer Will Gluck returned to direct, co-write and produce “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway,” but he changed screenwriting collaborators. The “Peter Rabbit” screenplay was co-written by Rob Lieber, while Patrick Burleigh co-wrote the screenplay for “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” The results are a much more frenetically paced, travel-oriented film that stuffs in a “race against time” plot development the last 10 minutes of the movie.

This “race against time” plot development could have worked as the plot of an entire film instead of being rushed in at the end. It seems like the filmmakers tried to incorporate several different plot ideas into the same movie instead of sticking to just one. For the most part, it works, especially if viewers have short attention spans. But other times, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” seems as if there are three different movies in one film.

One part of the movie is about the mischievous Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) running away from his family and befriending a gang of thieving animals. Another part of the movie is about Peter going home, missing his new friends, and recruiting his rabbit relatives and some animal pals to go back and help the gang of thieves with a big heist. And another part of the film involves a big rescue mission that won’t be revealed in this review. And there’s an over-arching theme about not changing your identity to please other people.

Because of all these different story ideas going on in the same movie, “Peter Rabbit 2” increases the energy level from the first “Peter Rabbit” movie, but sometimes to the detriment of staying focused. It’s not a perfect film. However, it’s good enough to bring some lighthearted chuckles while watching the antics of these precocious talking animals and how they interact with each other and with humans.

There are also some sly meta-references that poke fun at certain members of the cast and the “adventure story” aspect of this sequel. Some adult viewers might get the jokes. For example, Corden is somewhat of a divisive personality in real life. Some people adore him, while others think he’s extremely annoying. In “Peter Rabbit 2,” Peter asks certain animals more than once if they think his voice is annoying. It’s a question that Corden could be asking about his likability in real life.

And in other parts of the movie, there are several mentions of trying to make the “Peter Rabbit” books series more appealing to a wider audience by having the rabbits dress differently and having them embark on different adventures in various locations—even outer space. It seem like a wink and a nod to the pressures the “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” filmmakers must have felt to make this sequel more exciting than its predecessor. As such, Peter and his animal group experience more adventures outside the comfort of their country home in Windermere, England.

In the first “Peter Rabbit” movie, the plot centered mainly on Peter’s battles with members of the McGregor family who hate rabbits and other animals that might disrupt their garden where Peter and other animals like to play. First, there was crabby Old Mr. McGregor (played by Sam Neill), who died of a heart attack near the beginning of the movie. His nephew Thomas McGregor (played by Domhnall Gleeson), another cranky loner, inherited his deceased uncle’s house that’s next door to the house of an illustrative artist named Bea (played by Rose Byrne), a pleasant and gentle nurturer who loves the animals on the property.

Bea is especially fond of a family of five orphaned rabbits that she treats as if they’re her own children. The rabbits are Peter; his three sisters—insecure Flopsy Rabbit (voiced by Margot Robbie); practical Mopsy Rabbit (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki); and cynical Cotton-Tail Rabbit (voiced by Aimee Horne, who replaced Daisy Ridley)—and their older cousin Benjamin Bunny (voiced by Colin Moody), who likes to give wise advice. The rabbits think and talk like humans. But ironically, Thomas, not Bea, can hear the rabbits talk. (Flopsy is the voiceover narrator for these movies.)

The first “Peter Rabbit” movie ends the way that you expect it would. By the end of the movie, Thomas and Bea have fallen in love, Thomas has quit his sales job at Harrod’s, and he has fulfilled his dream of opening up a children’s shop that sells toys and books. Thomas has reached a tentative truce with Peter, with the agreement that Peter won’t touch Thomas’ cherished crop of tomatoes. This is information that’s mentioned at the beginning of “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” Therefore, people who didn’t see the first “Peter Rabbit” movie and want to get the full backstory probably should see “Peter Rabbit” before watching “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.”

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” begins with Bea and Thomas getting married. They work together in the shop, and Thomas has been an independent publisher for Bea’s first “Peter Rabbit” book about Peter Rabbit and his family. The book, which is a hit, has caught the attention of a smooth-talking wheeler dealer named Nigel Basil-Jones (played by David Oyelowo), an executive at a major book publisher. Nigel comes into the shop one day and tells a delighted Bea that he wants to sign her to a multi-book deal that will significantly increase distribution and profits for her “Peter Rabbit” book series.

There’s just one problem: Nigel and his team of sycophantic executives think that the “Peter Rabbit” book series should be more appealing to modern audiences. Suggestions are made to change the rabbits’ wardrobe to T-shirts and jeans. And the executives want the rabbits to have adventures in other places besides the yard of their home.

Bea is excited about this possible contract and seems willing to make these changes, while Thomas and Cotton-Tail are more skeptical. Bea doesn’t want the changes to be too drastic, but she’s willing to compromise. Nigel can also be very persuasive. There’s a running joke in the movie that people can’t look into Nigel’s eyes for too long because his eyes have almost a hypnotic effect on people.

The first time that Bea and Thomas meet with Nigel in London, the spouses take their rabbit family with them by train. During Thomas and Bea’s meeting with Nigel (with the rabbits also in attendance), Nigel suggests that each of the rabbits should have nicknames that would make the rabbits’ personalities more marketable. For Benjamin, the suggested nickname is The Wise One. Cotton-Tail’s suggested nickname is The Firecracker. Identical twins Flopsy and Mopsy’s suggested nickname is The Dynamic Duo.

And for Peter, Nigel can’t decide between the nickname The Mischief Maker or The Bad Seed. Peter is insulted by both names, especially The Bad Seed, because he doesn’t think he’s bad. And he doesn’t want to be portrayed as a villain in Bea’s “Peter Rabbit” books.

Peter sneaks off from the meeting to sulk and spend time by himself. He wanders into the seedier areas of the city to the sound of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” playing on the movie’s soundtrack. It’s in this part of the city that Peter meets a rabbit who’s about the same age as Peter’s father would be if Peter’s father were still alive.

This older rabbit’s name is Barnabas (voiced by Lennie James), who is a mischief maker and a longtime thief. After causing a ruckus at an outdoor grocery stand, Barnabas and Peter run away and hide in various places, including a mailbox and a recycling bin.

During their conversations where they get to know each other, Peter tells Barnabas about his family’s up-and-down history with the McGregors. Based on this information, Barnabas then tells Peter that he knew Peter’s father. An instant connection is then formed between Peter and Barnabas. Barnabas is an old roughneck who seems to have a soft spot for Peter and seems to want to be Peter’s father figure/mentor.

Barnabas also introduces Peter to the animals who are the other members of Barnabas’ gang of thieves: a cat named Tom Kitten (voiced by Damon Herriman); Tom’s sister Mittens (voiced by Hayley Atwell); and a rat named Samuel Whiskers (voiced by Rupert Degas). There’s a misadventure involving a pet store called Piperson’s Pets, which has animal catchers roaming the streets, looking for stray animals to capture and sell.

The rest of the movie could have been spent on Peter being a runaway and his family trying to find him. However, it would be too divisive to audiences to have Peter separated from his family for most of the movie. Instead, Bea and Thomas find Peter, and he goes home with the rest of the family.

At home, Peter is still thinking about Barnabas, who was like an instant surrogate father to Peter and seemed to accept Peter for who he is. Peter longs to see Barnabas again and to continue to get Barnabas’ approval. And so, Peter hatches a plan to convince his family and some animal neighbors to help Barnabas and his gang on a major famer’s market heist, with dried fuit being the biggest prized possession for the thieves.

The rest of “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” shows what happens to those plans. Peter’s rabbit family members go along for the ride. Also recruited for this big heist are characters from the first “Peter Rabbit” movie: a hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (voiced by Sia); a pig named Pigling Bland (voiced by Ewen Leslie); a deer named Felix D’eer (voiced by Christian Gazal) who freezes at the sight of lights; a duck named Jemima Puddle-Duck (voiced by Byrne); and a badger named Tommy Brock (voiced by Sam Neill).

The neurotic JW Rooster III (voiced by Jack Andrew), with his now-older children, make recurring appearances, with the running joke that rooster thinks that the day can’t start unless he crows correctly. With all these animal characters, the humans in the story could be overshadowed. However, there’s enough of a balance and a reminder that these domesticated animals, for all of their rebellion, still rely on humans to get their food.

The comedy in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” isn’t a laugh a minute. There’s a lot of predictable slapstick, of course, with Peter usually finding himself in trouble in one way or another. Thomas is still gangly and awkward, so he’s the human character who’s the most likely to be the butt of the slapstick jokes. Cotton-Tail brings some laughs with her ongoing pessimistic sarcasm.

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” also has a recurring gag where Cotton-Tail over-indulges in eating candy, gets very hyperactive from a sugar high, and then her energy level crashes and burns. A joke that doesn’t work as well is Flopsy’s decision to call herself Lavoratory because she’s tired of her identity being so intwined with her identical twin Mopsy. This decision doesn’t last, but it’s a little disappointing that the filmmakers would make one the narrator of the movie call herself a toilet and that she wasn’t smart enough to know what a lavoratory was in the first place.

The movie’s soundtrack has the same rock/pop tone as the first “Peter Rabbit” movie, with prominent placement of tunes from the 1990s and 2010s. Supergrass’ 1995 hit “Alright” seems to be the unofficial theme song for the movie, since it’s played more than once in key scenes. Gluck’s direction moves the film along at a brisk but occasionally uneven pace, since the last 10 minutes of the movie really look like the narrative of the story went on fast-forward.

The movie’s visual effects that combine live action with animation continue to look seamless, thanks to the good work of visual effects company Animal Logic, which also did the visual effects for the first “Peter Rabbit” film. Will this movie win any major awards? No. Just like the visual effects, acting and everything else in the movie “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” fulfills its purpose of providing satisfactory entertainment for people of many age groups, but the work isn’t so outstanding that people will think that it’s the best of the best.

Columbia Pictures will release “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” in U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Judy & Punch,’ starring Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman

June 9, 2020

by Carla Hay

Damon Herriman and Mia Wasikowska in “Judy & Punch” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Judy & Punch”

Directed by Mirrah Foulkes

Culture Representation: Taking place in a 17th century-inspired other world, the drama “Judy & Punch” has a predominantly white cast (with some black people and Asian people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and wife who make their living as puppeteers experience turmoil in their relationship because of alcoholism, abuse and an overly suspicious community that’s quick to accuse people of witchcraft.

Culture Audience: “Judy & Punch” will appeal primarily to people who like dark re-imaginations of children’s entertainment, although the content might be too violent and disturbing for some viewers.

Mia Wasikowska in “Judy & Punch” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

The Punch & Judy puppet shows might conjure up images of making children happy with what seems to be a light-hearted form of entertainment. The “Judy & Punch” movie destroys that innocent illusion to make a brutal commentary on the violent and misogynistic origins of Punch & Judy shows. Australian actress/filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes makes a compelling debut as a feature film writer/director with “Judy & Punch,” which is part fantasy, part revenge thriller, part feminist manifesto.

The trailers for “Judy & Punch” reveal a lot of this movie’s plot (except for the ending, of course); therefore, nothing in this review is a “spoiler.” “Judy & Punch” is set in a town called Seaside, a fantasy world that looks like it could be in the 17th century, but there are modern elements to this world, such as some of the hairstyles of the extras and the use of contemporary slang, such as “We killed it,” to describe how someone did a great job at something.

In the beginning of the story, married couple Judy (played by Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (played by Damon Herriman) seem to have a harmonious relationship as partners in a traveling marionette puppet show. Judy and Punch have taken up residency at Seaside, a community filled with dirty and disheveled working-class people who are extremely superstitious and fearful of witches. Everyone has some type of British accent, except for Punch, whose accent is Irish.

Seaside also has a lust for violence, since one of the town’s favorite activities is stoning or hanging people who’ve been accused of practicing witchcraft. Judy and Punch’s puppet show is a hit in the town, mainly because the show consists of an “alpha male” puppet assaulting an assorted array of other puppets until the alpha male kills the other puppet. The object of the alpha male’s attack could be a female, a skeleton or a devil.

Judy and Punch don’t attract huge crowds in Seaside (the theater where they perform only holds about 100 to 150 people), but they make enough money to live fairly comfortably. Judy and Punch also have an elderly live-in housekeeper named Maid Maude (played by Brenda Palmer) whose husband Scaramouche (played by Terry Norris) also resides in the home and is showing signs of dementia. Maude and Scaramouche have a dog named Toby, which has a habit of stealing food from Punch’s dining plate.

It’s clear from the beginning of the story that Judy is the more talented partner in this duo (she’s the one who designs the puppets used in their shows), but she’s subservient to the flamboyant Punch because she’s confined by social rules to be a dutiful wife. The first sign that Punch is disrespectful to Judy is when they come out from behind the curtain at the end of the show to bask in the crowd’s applause. Punch twirls Judy around, but then he lets her loose with such force, he doesn’t seem to notice that she almost falls down.

In public, Punch seems to be fun-loving and charismatic. But it’s mostly an act. In private, he’s a mean and violent alcoholic who can be very abusive to Judy and others. Punch and Judy have an infant girl, who is probably one of the main reasons why Judy has decided to stay with Punch. But Judy is so afraid of how Punch can be when he’s drunk that she’s reluctant to leave the baby alone with him for an extended period of time.

But one day, Judy has some business to do outside the home, so she leaves the baby with Punch and warns him not to drink alcohol while he’s babysitting. Toby the dog takes some food from Punch’s plate, so an infuriated Punch chases the dog to the room where Scaramouche is staying. As a peace offering, Scaramouche offers Punch some liquor, and Punch predictably gets drunk.

What happens next is a heartbreaking tragedy (and yes, it involves the baby), so when Judy gets home and finds out, she lashes out at Punch in anger. Punch then viciously beats Judy with a fire poker until she appears to be dead. Punch buries Judy in a shallow grave in the woods, where she is discovered barely alive by a group of misfits who live in a community that they call a heretics camp.

Judy is brought back to camp and nursed back to health. The unofficial leader of this ragtag group is Dr. Goodtime (played by Gillian Jones), who initially advises Judy not to get revenge on Punch. But Judy has other plans. This huge chunk of the storyline is revealed in the movie’s trailers, so the only real spoiler information is if or how Judy confronts Punch, who believes she is dead. Punch is so loathsome that he has blamed Maid Maude and Scaramouche for the disappearance of Judy and the baby.

“Judy & Punch” also has some supporting characters that round out some of the story. There’s the Seaside constable Derrick (played by Benedict Hardie), a nervous, nerdy type who tries to be fair and objective in this witch-hunt community, but he’s often swayed by forceful personalities such as Punch and the town bully Mr. Frankly (played by Tom Budge). Mr. Frankly is the type of sadist who loves stoning people so much that he’s jubilant when he announces, “Happy Stoning Day!” on a designated day for this brutal public punishment.

Another townsperson who’s a supporting character is Polly (played by Lucy Velik), a single mother of fraternal twin sons, who has a crush on Punch and doesn’t try to hide it, even before Judy “disappears.” After Judy’s disappearance, it doesn’t take long for Polly and Punch to start sleeping together. But when Punch makes Polly his new partner in the puppet show, she sees his abusive side when he becomes impatient with her inexperience.

One of the greatest strengths of “Judy & Punch” is the world-building accomplished by the movie. The world of Seaside looks ancient but feels modern, and the themes in the film can still resonate with today’s movie audiences. There are also some amusing quirks in some scenes, such as during Punch and Polly’s first puppet show together, two jaded-looking “hipster” critics with notepads are seen in the audience looking stone-faced. It’s an obvious satire of how several modern critics look and act in real life.

The cinematography by Stefan Duscio is striking, as many interior scenes are bathed in a red glow that can look either inviting or menacing. It’s a perfect metaphor for the duality of Punch, who is beloved by the townspeople but who has a hateful side to him that he hides very well.

Aside from the obvious female empowerment message in the story, “Judy & Punch” has very pointed social commentary about the dangers of mistreating others just because they’re “different” from the majority. Although the movie is obviously fictional, the lessons in the story are relevant to many societies in the real world.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Judy & Punch” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on June 5, 2020. The movie was originally released in Australia, the United Kingdom and other countries in 2019.

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