Review: ‘Greed,’ starring Steve Coogan, David Mitchell and Isla Fisher

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Steve Coogan in "Greed"
Steve Coogan in “Greed” (Photo by Amelia Troubridge/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Greed” 

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, Sri Lanka and the Greek island of Mykonos, the dark satirical comedy “Greed” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Southeast Asians and Syrians) representing the rich, middle-class and poor.

Culture Clash: “Greed” takes a scathing look at a ruthless billionaire retail mogul and the exploitation of poor laborers who helped build his empire.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like comedies that address issues about social classes and poke fun at rich people, but the film overstuffs the story with too many flashbacks and distracting subplots.

Steve Coogan in “Greed” (Photo by Amelia Troubridge/Sony Pictures Classics)

On the surface, “Greed” (written and directed by Michael Winterbottom) might give the most screen time to the pompous billionaire who’s the central character, but the movie’s heart really lies with the anonymous laborers who are exploited to make this arrogant mogul (and others just like him) wealthy and mostly able to dodge accountability. The story, which is a dark satire, centers on British billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie (played by Steve Coogan), who has made his fortune with an empire of discount clothing stores whose chief rivals are H&M and Zara. He is so proud of being a ruthless businessman that he’s created a nickname for himself: “Greedy McCreadie.”

About half of the movie shows Richard on the Greek island of Mykonos, where he’s planning a lavish, star-studded 60th birthday party that will have a Roman toga theme. Things aren’t going so well, since the small amphitheater being constructed for the party probably won’t be finished in time. Many of the invited celebrity guests are canceling or declining their invitations. And the party is really a distraction from the Parliamentary inquiry that McCreadie has had to answer to about allegations of his company’s corruption and improper use of funds.

If you think all of this sounds like Sir Philip Green, the British billionaire founder of Arcadia Group (the parent company of Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Outfit and many more clothing stores), you would be right. Green went through a scandalous Parliamentary hearing in 2018 over mishandling of pension funds. That same year, a member of Parliament also named Green as someone with numerous employee accusations of racism and sexual harassment, with the complaints settled out of court. Winterbottom says that although Green inspired many aspects of “Greed,” the movie isn’t about him, and the Richard McCreadie character is a composite of billionaire moguls.

Greedy McCreadie has an orange-tinted fake tan, super-white dental veneers and a cocaine-snorting, supermodel trophy girlfriend named Naomi (played by Shanina Shaik), who’s young enough to be his daughter. He’s narcissistic, he judges people’s worth by how much money they have, and he treats people like disposable pawns in a game of chess. In other words, he’s the epitome of what people despise about the type of super-rich people who think they’re cool but they’re actually superficial jerks.

Richad’s 60th birthday party will be an ostentatious display of wealth. The event planner Melanie (played by Sarah Solemani) tells Richard that the party will be like “The Great Gatsby” meets “Gladiator” meets “The Godfather”—and Richard loves the idea. And just like many billionaires, Richard wants to surround himself with celebrities.

Melanie’s main job is to wrangle in as many famous people as possible to attend the party. She and Richard go down a list of possible performers in a somewhat hilarious takedown of what real-life celebrities charge for personal appearance fees. (Richard is appalled that Shakira charges as much as Elton John, and he’s thrilled that Tom Jones’ fee is a bargain in comparison.) There’s enough name dropping in this movie to fill the half-finished amphitheater for the party, which has a caged lion on display.

Several real-life celebs (mostly British) make cameos in the film, including Stephen Fry and Fatboy Slim, who are actually at the party. Most of the other stars—including Keira Knightley, Colin Firth and Coldplay’s Chris Martin—appear via video messages where they wish Richard a happy birthday. And when Richard thinks that not enough celebrities will be at the party, Richard gives Melanie the go-ahead to hire celebrity impersonators. One of the movie’s funniest scenes is when the fake celebs are gathered in a dressing room at the party and get various levels of approval by Richard.

The movie begins on a somewhat jarring note, with a celebrity cameo whose life came to a tragic end in real life. The opening scene is of Richard at a company event where he’s giving out awards to employees. The host of the award ceremony is British TV presenter Caroline Flack, who in real life tragically died by committing suicide at the age of 40 on February 15, 2020. At the ceremony, Richard announces that he’s giving a huge chunk of his company dividends to his ex-wife Samantha (played by Isla Fisher), making it the largest dividend payout from a privately held company.

Samantha (who is the mother of the youngest child of Richard’s three kids) is among the family members who will be at Richard’s 60th birthday bash. They include his domineering widowed mother Margaret (played by Shirley Henderson); his insecure teenage son named Finn (played by Asa Butterfield); and his spoiled 20-something daughter Lily (played by Sophie Cookson). Richard has another child, a pouty son in his 20s named Adrian (played by Matt Bentley), who shows up later in the story. Samantha has also brought her much-younger lover named François (played by Christophe de Choisy) to the party.

Richard’s entourage includes his vapid girlfriend Naomi and his kind-hearted and hard-working personal assistant Amanda (played by Dinita Gohil), who’s risen to this position after starting off as a factory employee for his company. Amanda is part of a subplot involving extremely underpaid workers (most of them women) in Sri Lanka who make the clothes that Richard’s company sells. Richard doesn’t care if these workers are underpaid and mistreated if it means it will make him wealthier.

Richard’s official biographer Nick (played by David Mitchell), who’s an opportunistic journalist, is also tagging along at the party. Half of the time, Nick wonders what he’s gotten himself into with this assignment, because he’s witnessing some very unflattering things about Richard that would be tricky to put in the biography. Richard is essentially the Boss From Hell, who does a lot of yelling and hurling of insults when things don’t go his way. He’s also the type of toxic head honcho who will demand that things be done a certain way, forget that it was his decision, and then blame it on someone else if things go wrong.

Although “Greed” might sound like a clever concept to expose the corrupt side of the fashion industry, the execution of the idea is unfortunately a little too haphazard and overstuffed. There are so many flashbacks in the movie, that even the flashbacks have flashbacks. They include seeing how a young Richard (played by Jamie Blackley) went from being expelled from school at age 16 to becoming a hotshot and unscrupulous wheeler dealer in the discount fashion business.

Richard is a tough negotiator and he has no qualms about exploiting workers so he can get cheap labor and increase profits. There are also scenes of Richard facing the Parliament investigation into his shady business practices. Richard is almost proud of the fact that he gets people to invest millions in his companies, he keeps the profits, but then when the investors want their share of the profits, he shuts down the business by declaring bankruptcy.

There’s one scene where a female protestor crashes into the hearings and throws a pie in Richard’s face. It’s the movie’s obvious spoof of what happened in real life to billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 2011, during his own Parliamentary hearing. Greedy McCreadie, ever the name dropper, tells Parliament that at least he’s more honest than Richard Branson and Bono when it comes to investors’ money.

And then the movie has subplots about other people during the party preparations in Mykonos. Several refugees from Syria have camped out at the public beach near the party site. Richard wants the refugees to move because he thinks they’ll ruin the party atmosphere. But since it’s a public beach, the refugees refuse to leave. But then, a plan is put in motion that will get them off the beach, by hiring the refugees as kitchen workers for the party.

Lily is a star of a reality show, so the TV cameras have followed her to Mykonos. The show’s annoying producers and director frequently bark orders at Lily, her TV boyfriend and her friends to redo their pre-fabricated scenes when the director needs another take. (This usually happens when someone who’s not part of the show’s cast “ruins” a shot by accidentally walking into a scene while filming.) One of the staged scenes includes Lily handing out food to the refugees to make her look charitable. But when the producers want her to film the scene again, she has to take back the food, which angers the refugees, who don’t know that they’re being used as part of the staged scene.

The movie also shows Richard’s difficult and complicated relationship with his youngest child Finn, who’s constantly seeking his father’s approval and attention and not getting much of either. Finn, who both admires and fears his father, gets a little bit of Oedipal revenge when he makes moves on Richard’s trophy girlfriend Naomi while Finn is high on some of her cocaine. Naomi does a little flirting with Finn, who seems to know deep down that Naomi is only interested in the man in the McCreadie family who has the most money.

Meanwhile, Richard and his ex-wife Samantha clearly have unfinished personal business. When they’re alone together, they flirt and give each other loving kisses. Samantha also tries to be the “cool ex-wife” by being very friendly to Naomi, probably because she knows that Naomi is just a fling, while Samantha still has a hold on Richard because she’s a big part of his business and she’s the mother of one of his children.

And if all these shenanigans weren’t enough, during the party preparations, there are plenty of meltdowns from logistics coordinator Sam (played by Tim Key), who’s frantic about the amphitheater being finished on time. There are also issues with laborers who are unhappy with their wages and unrealistic time constraints. Predictable conflicts about this work then play out in the story.

In the production notes of “Greed,” Winterbottom says that when he was seeking financing for the movie, he told potential investors that the tone of “Greed” would be similar to “The Big Short,” writer/director Adam McKay’s 2015 Oscar-winning satire of Wall Street’s manipulation of the U.S. housing market. The biggest differences between “The Big Short” and “Greed” (besides “The Big Short” being a much-better movie) are that in “Greed,” there’s no breaking down of a fourth wall with characters talking directly to the viewers, and “Greed” tries to do too much with the characters in the story instead of keeping it more focused. This is supposed to be a movie, not a TV series.

Although there are some snappy and witty lines in “Greed,” the movie’s overall tone has the same smugness that it lampoons in Greedy McCreadie. The movie spends so much time inflating and skewering the super-rich and their flunkies that it feels almost like a pandering afterthought when the film tries to counterbalance the satire at the end, with sobering statistics about laborer exploitation in the fashion industry. The materialistic and selfish characters in “Greed” are like people who’ve overstayed their welcome at their own party. And viewers of this movie will find most of these characters so unappealing that they’ll be glad when this party is over.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Greed” in select U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020.

Review: ‘Blood on Her Name,’ starring Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton and Elisabeth Röhm

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Bethany Anne Lind in “Blood on Her Name” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Blood on Her Name” 

Directed by Matthew Pope

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed small U.S. town, this crime thriller has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latino and African Americans in supporting roles) that represent the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced mother who has killed a man tries to cover up the crime.

Culture Audience: “Blood on her Name” will appeal primarily to people who like tension-filled crime stories about ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances.

Will Patton and Jared Ivers in “Blood on Her Name” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Blood on Her Name” sounds like it might be the title of a horror film,  but the story is really a crime thriller about choices that a desperate woman makes that will have long-lasting effects on her family. It’s suspenseful from beginning to end, and it will make viewers wonder what they would do if they were in the same situation.

In the beginning of the story, auto-body shop owner Leigh Tiller (played by Bethany Anne Lind) is bruised and battered from an obvious physical fight. But that’s not the worst of her problems. The man who caused her injuries is now dead, and Leigh is desperately trying to figure out where she should dump his body and get rid of the weapon (a mechanic’s wrench) that she used to kill him. The movie never shows the fight, even in flashbacks, so viewers will have to speculate about what took place during this fatal altercation.

With the body wrapped in tarp, Leigh takes the corpse with her in a canoe out to a lake, where she throws the wrench into the water.  The movie’s only real plot hole is that it doesn’t explain how Leigh, who is of average height and weight, could carry a dead body of that size by herself and load it in her car and then a canoe. Adrenaline has been proven to give people extraordinary strength, so that will have to be the only logical explanation.

As Leigh is about the throw the body into the lake too, the dead man’s cell phone rings. She lets it go to voice mail and then listens to the message. It’s the dead man’s son, who sounds concerned that he hadn’t come home the night before. In that moment, she decides not to dispose of the body in the lake, and she puts the body back in the trunk of her car.

Leigh is obviously in a major panic and isn’t thinking straight. Not only does she seem unsure of what to do with the body, she’s also taken no precautions to prevent her DNA or fingerprints from being on the body or the tarp used to cover it. The other less-than-smart thing that she does is keep the dead man’s cell phone. Apparently, she doesn’t know that police can track a cell phone’s location and travel route by the nearest cell phone towers that pick up the cell phone’s signal.

The next day, Leigh is in the car with her delinquent teenage son Ryan (played by Jared Ivers), as they drive to a meeting with Ryan’s parole officer. It isn’t specifically said what Ryan did that got him arrested, but it was bad enough where he ended up in jail, Leigh has to pay restitution, and Ryan has to do drug testing by urine sample.

While in the car, Leigh tells Ryan not to worry about the man who came to their home last night because he left right after Ryan left. From the expression on Ryan’s face, he’s somewhat skeptical, but he doesn’t press the matter. When Ryan and Leigh meet with parole officer Nathan Parrish (played by Tony Vaughn), the officer asks what happened to Leigh’s face, and she lies and tells him that she got injured on the job.

And where is Ryan’s father? He’s divorced from Leigh and is in prison for dirty deals involving stolen cars. It’s implied in the movie, but not said outright, that he used the auto-body shop to sell parts from these stolen automobiles. While he’s in prison, Leigh has taken over the shop, which is so small that only two people work there: Leigh and her loyal mechanic Jimmy Gonzales (played by Reynoso Dias), who immediately asks what happened to Leigh when she goes to work and he sees the injuries on her face.

Leigh tells Jimmy that that a junkie broke into the shop when she was alone, and she fought him off. When he tells her that she should report the break-in and assault to the police, Leigh says she won’t, because she doesn’t want the shop to have “a bad reputation with the few customers we have left.” When she’s alone, Leigh checks the computer surveillance video from the previous night and deletes what appears to be damning evidence.

And then Leigh does something strange: She goes back to the body to retrieve the dead man’s wallet, she takes out the driver’s license to get his address, and then drives to the address that’s on the license. She parks a little way down the street so she can get a good look at what’s going on at the address.

While parked in her car, she sees on the dead man’s cell phone that he’s been getting increasingly angry text messages from a woman who’s the mother of the son who left the voice mail from the previous night. The profile picture on the text messages shows what the woman looks like, and the same woman is sitting out front in the trailer. Her son, who appears to be in her late teens, is seen outside of the trailer too. The woman’s name is Dani Wilson (played by Elisabeth Röhm), and her son’s name is Travis (played by Jack Andrews).

While Leigh is spying on the dead man’s family, Leigh is startled by a cop, who asks why she’s parked there in the middle of the day. And the cop happens to be Leigh’s widowed father Richard (played by Will Patton), who’s on patrol duty. Even though this story takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, it’s obviously a small town because Richard doesn’t have a cop partner when he’s on patrol. And as the story unfolds with Leigh trying to cover up what she did, it’s even more obvious that the city where she lives has a very small police force.

Why was Leigh parked in front of the dead man’s home? We find out that it’s because she wanted to see where she could return the body to his family without being caught. She goes back to the home at night to dispose of the body in the family’s shed. She then leaves a hand-written note in the family’s mailbox that says, “He’s in the shed. I’m sorry.”

Even though it would have been easier to get away with what she did if the body was never found, one can only speculate that she wanted the body to be found because she felt guilty and wanted to give closure to the dead man’s family. In a weird way, she’s thinking that it’s more “respectful” to leave the body at the dead man’s home instead of leaving the body at a random place where a stranger would find it.

But how much will this decision cost Leigh in the end? And who exactly was the dead man? Those questions are answered in the movie. But there are some twists and turns along the way, including Leigh noticing that her unusual necklace (a tiny wrench on a chain) is missing, and she might have dropped it when she left the body in the shed.

“Blood on Her Name” (ably directed by Matthew Pope, who wrote the screenplay with Don M. Thompson) maintains a panic-stricken tone throughout the film. If some of Leigh’s decisions might seem illogical, consider that this is probably the first time she’s killed someone, and the death doesn’t appear to have been planned in advance. And then factor in that her father is a cop who would be investigating the disappearance/death of this man, and it’s easy to see why her thought process would be scrambled by extreme fear and guilt.

During different scenes in the movie, Leigh starts to have flashback visions of herself as a child of about 8 or 9 years old. It’s here that we see that she used to idolize her father at that age, and she admired his job as a cop so much that she would ride in the back of his police car. But she now has a strained relationship with her father, no doubt because she was married to a man who’s now in prison. In case it wasn’t clear from her actions, Leigh’s nickname could be “Bad Life Choices.”

“Blood on Her Name” is not a groundbreaking film, but it’s a taut thriller with solid acting and a few unpredictable revelations that add depth to the movie. The morality dilemmas in the story aren’t just about what someone would do to cover up a crime but also what someone would do to protect a family.

Vertical Entertainment released “Blood on Her Name” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on February 28, 2020.

Review: ‘The Whistlers,’ starring Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agustí Villaronga and Sabin Tambrea

February 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vlad Ivanov and Catrinel Marlon in “The Whistlers” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea)

“The Whistlers” 

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

Romanian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Set in Romania and the Canary Islands’ La Gomera, this thriller has an all-white cast of characters portraying law enforcement and criminals.

Culture Clash: The characters have conflicts over drug smuggling, police corruption and stolen 10 million in cash.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like suspenseful crime stories and European arthouse films.

Catrinel Marlon, Vlad Ivanov, Agustí Villaronga, Antonio Buil and Andrei Ciopec in “The Whistlers” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea)

Drug dealers, corrupt cops, a femme fatalethese are all characteristics of numerous movies about the criminal underworld. However, the Romanian film “The Whistlers” has a unique angle because most of the characters involved the dirty dealing communicate in code by whistles that sound like birds. They use this form of communication for their most secretive messages. It’s a language called El Silbo that they’ve learned by traveling to a mysterious place at the Canary Islands’ La Gomera, off the coast of Spain. The El Silbo whistling language exists in real life, and “The Whistlers” writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu was inspired to do this film when he heard about El Silbo.

At the beginning of the film, the central character Cristi Anghelache (played by Vlad Ivanov) is seen arriving in La Gomera. He’s an amoral Bucharest police officer who’s gotten involved in drug trafficking, by taking some of the cash involved in the drug deals he’s supposed to investigate and by becoming a trusted ally to a powerful crime lord who engineers the drug deals. After arriving in La Gomera, Cristi is driven to a secluded house, where he’s met by Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), a beautiful woman with a lot of secrets.

Gilda tells him, “The package arrived safely,” before showing Cristi his guest room. She also tells him cryptically, “Forget about what happened in Bucharest. I did it for the surveillance cameras.” It turns out that Cristi is at the house in La Gomera to learn to whistle in the El Silbo langauge. Exactly how and why he ended up there is revealed as the story unfolds.

There are many twists and turns to the plot, but it’s enough to say without revealing spoiler information that many of the characters have hidden agendas and could be involved in double-crossing each other at any moment. They are often under surveillance of hidden cameras. And most of them are looking for or want the €10 million in cash that went missing during a massive drug bust.

Besides Cristi and Gilda, the other people involved in this web of lies and intrigue are:

Paco (played by Agustí Villaronga), the powerful crime boss who’s the leader of a drug-trafficking ring that Cristi has been investigating and colluding with at the same time.

Zsolt Nagy (played by Sabin Tambrea), Paco’s trusted right-hand man, who’s been plotting with Gilda to betray Paco.

Magda (played by Rodica Lazar), Cristi’s tough and corrupt boss, who wants Cristi to help her frame Zsolt by planting cocaine in his possession so that Zsolt can be arrested and interrogated.

Kiko (played by Antonio Buil), the sleazy henchman who is often tasked with teaching El Silbo to people in the crime ring.

Mama (played by Julieta Szönyi), Cristi’s mother who is heartbroken over knowing that her son has gotten involved with criminal activities, but she remains loyal to him and acts in what she thinks will be in his best interests.

All of these characters are shown in flashbacks and present-day scenes. People who prefer linear structures in movies will have to pay extra attention in “The Whistlers” to what’s a flashback and what isn’t a flashback, in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Gilda is somewhat of a stereotypical femme fatale who uses her sexuality to get what she wants. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when viewers find out that she’s married to Paco and has been having sex with at least two other men who are involved in the drug-trafficking ring. Meanwhile, Cristi’s mother finds €50,000 in cash that Cristi has hidden in her cellar. She knows that it’s dirty money, so she donates it to a local church. That donation sets off a series of events that culminates in secrets being exposed and alliances being tested.

“The Whistlers” is an intriguing story that’s elevated by artsy and gorgeous cinematography by Tudor Mircea. (A scene that takes place during a light show at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands is particularly effective.) The film’s ending might not be much of a surprise, but the guessing games that the movie plays on viewers should be enjoyable to people who like a good mystery.

Magnolia Pictures will release “The Whistlers” in select U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020.

Review: ‘Burden,’ starring Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Austin Hébert, Usher Raymond and Tom Wilkinson

February 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Taylor Gregory, Andrea Riseborough, Forest Whitaker, Dexter Darden, Crystal Fox and Garrett Hedlund in “Burden” (Photo courtesy of 101 Studios)

“Burden” (2020) 

Directed by Andrew Heckler

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the small town of Laurens, South Carolina, this dramatic film has a racially diverse cast of African American and white characters portraying the poor and working-class.

Culture Clash: The movie tells the story about racial tensions and hate crimes that get worse when local Ku Klux Klansmen open a KKK shop/museum in the town, and one of the KKK members becomes a former racist.

Culture Audience: “Burden” will appeal primarily to people who like to see dramatic retellings of stories about people involved with civil rights and fighting racism.

Garrett Hedlund and Tom Wilkinson in “Burden” (Photo courtesy of 101 Studios)

There’s been a mini-trend of “based on a true story” feature films about white racists who change their bigoted ways of thinking, by having unlikely friendships with black people. In the movie, one black person in particular makes the difference in reforming the white racist. We saw this same premise in 2018’s Oscar-winning “Green Book,” 2019’s “The Best of Enemies” and now in 2020’s “Burden.”

Written and directed by Andrew Heckler (his first feature-length film), “Burden” won’t be nominated for any Oscars, but it’s a solid film that has a top-notch cast, even though the movie can veer into well-worn clichés. The movie’s timeless message is more important than the recycled way that much of the movie was filmed.

Taking place in the small town of Laurens, South Carolina, in the mid-to-late 1990s, the story is told mainly from the perspective of the title character, Mike Burden (played by Garrett Hedlund), a self-described “redneck” troublemaker who was orphaned at an early age. The movie begins in the spring of 1996, when Mike (who’s in his 20s) is making his living at a repo company, which is not-so-subtly called Plantation Repossession. He also has a long history of being a criminal. Most of his antisocial behavior consists of violent hate crimes, because he’s a longtime member of the Ku Klux Klan and has risen to the title of Grand Dragon.

Mike has a mentor/father figure in local Klan leader Tom Griffin (played by Tom Wilkinson), who is grooming Mike to be his successor. Mike is such a part of Tom’s family that he’s become like a brother to Tom’s son Clint (played by Austin Hébert), who works with Mike at Plantation Repossession. Tom’s wife Hazel (played by Tess Harper) is also a white supremacist who’s proud to have her family in the KKK.

Tom, Mike and other local Klansman have opened up a storefront in town called the Redneck Shop and KKK Museum, despite objections from many of the citizens in Laurens and beyond. One of the most vocal protestors is Rev. David Kennedy (played by Forest Whitaker), the leader of the New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Kennedy is a devoted family man to his wife Janice (played by Crystal Fox) and teenage son Kelvin (played by Dexter Darden).

Meanwhile, the movie shows two other people who eventually play a role in Mike Burden’s transformation. One is a single mother named Judy (played by Andrea Riseborough), who first meets Mike when he and Clint come over to her house to repossess items from her live-in boyfriend, who’s an unemployed former NASCAR driver and a heavy drinker. The other person is Mike’s former schoolmate Clarence Brooks (played by Usher Raymond, also known as Grammy-winning singer Usher), who encounters Mike and Clint when they go over to Clarence’s house to repossess his television.

Even though Clarence tells them his sob story about being laid off due to company cutbacks and asks the repo men to give him a break, Mike and Clint are unmoved. Clarence tries to appeal to Mike’s memories of when they were friends as young kids, but Mike somewhat smugly tells Clarence that he can’t make an exception for him or else he and Clint will lose their jobs. While they’re far enough away so Clarence can’t hear them, Clint and Mike make a racist comment about Clarence being on welfare.

The next time Mike and Judy see each other, she’s at the racetrack with her elementary-school-aged son Franklin (played by Taylor Gregory). Mike and Judy lock eyes in the way that people do in movies when you know that they’re going to fall in love. Even though Judy has broken up with her deadbeat boyfriend, she’s somewhat reluctant to date Mike because she knows about his bad reputation. But Mike is very charming and polite to her and Franklin, so eventually she gives in, and they start dating and fall in love.

Before Mike goes though his transformation, much of the story shows the dichotomy of his personality. One the one hand, he’s a hard-working employee and a romantic boyfriend to Judy. On the other hand, he participates in vicious crimes against people who aren’t white or Christian. He and his KKK cronies regularly beat up black people. And they’re the kind of racists who, when they’re driving in a truck and see a black girl walking down a deserted road by herself, they urinate on her and laugh as they pass by.

Mike’s mentor Tom thinks so highly of him that he tells everyone at a local KKK chapter meeting that he’s signing over the store/museum deed to Mike. What Mike does with that real-estate deed after he leaves the Klan becomes the center of a lawsuit that’s depicted in the last third of the film.

But before that happens, Judy makes it clear that she despises that Mike is in the KKK, and she starts spending more time working with Rev. Kennedy and the other people in his congregation who want to shut down the Redneck Shop and KKK Museum. She eventually helps Mike see the error of his ways, and he leaves the Klan.

But there are consequences, as Mike becomes the target of his former KKK comrades’ hatred. He loses his job and eventually his home. He gets beaten up by his former Klan buddies. Mike eventually turns to Rev. Kennedy for help.

Rev. Kennedy offers Mike, Judy and Franklin a place to stay at his home, which is an offer that his wife Janice objects to at first because she doesn’t want her family to be put in danger. The reverend’s son Kelvin is also upset by letting Mike and his new family into the Kennedy home and what it could mean for the Kennedy family. The danger is very real, since Clarence gets beaten up by KKK members because of Clarence’s association with Mike.

As the story unfolds, there are scenes that predictably happen. Judy’s son Franklin and Clarence’s son Duane (played by Devin Bright) become friends in a déjà vu of Mike and Clarence’s childhood friendship. The controversy over the KKK museum gets national attention, bringing Jesse Jackson (played by an actor) to town for one of the protests. Mike’s baptism (by Rev. Kennedy, of course), which takes place at a lake, shows a reformed Mike emerging from the water in slow-motion. It’s filmed with the kind of adoration that’s usually reserved for “miracle” scenes.

“Burden” sometimes gets hokey, but the good intentions outweigh the sometimes overly sentimental direction. The movie doesn’t sugarcoat that turning around a violent bigot’s life can be complicated, messy and dangerous. But the movie shows that things can improve for people who used to be enemies of each other if they have enough compassion, knowledge and resources to help people change for the better.

The former location of the Redneck Shop and KKK Museum has now been renamed the Echo Theater. According to a press release from 101 Studios (the U.S. distributor for “Burden”), 101 Studios and the New Baptist Missionary Church “are partnering to rebuild the space so that it becomes a center of positivity for the first time in its history. National and local partners, such as Lowe’s, are working with 101 Studios and the New Baptist Missionary Church to contribute supplies and materials to the renovation efforts.”

101 Studios will release “Burden” in select U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020. 

Review: ‘Emma’ (2020), starring Anya Taylor-Joy

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy in "Emma"
Anya Taylor-Joy in “Emma” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Emma” (2020)

Directed by Autumn de Wilde

Culture Representation: This comedic adapation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” is set in the fictional countryside town of Highbury, England, and revolves around the white upper-class main characters and some representation of their working-class servants.

Culture Clash: The story’s title character is a young woman who likes to meddle in people’s love lives as a matchmaker, and her snobbish ways about social status sometimes cause problems.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jane Austen novels and period movies about British culture.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in “Emma” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This delightful and gorgeously filmed adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” stays mostly faithful to the original story but spices it up a bit to appeal to modern audiences. In her feature-film debut, director Autumn de Wilde takes the comedy of “Emma” and infuses it with more impish energy that’s lustier and more vibrant than previous film and TV adaptations.

The title character of the story is Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), a woman of privilege in her early 20s, who lives with her widowed father in the fictional countryside town of Highbury, England. Emma is a somewhat spoiled bachelorette who thinks she has such high intelligence and excellent judgment that she takes it upon herself to play matchmaker to people she deems worthy of her romance advice.

The movie takes place over the course of a year in the early 1800s, beginning one summer and ending the following summer. Viewers know this because different seasons are introduced in bold letters, like a different chapter in a book.

One of the changes from the book that the movie makes is that it begins with Emma attending the wedding of her friend and former governess Miss Taylor (played by Gemma Whelan) to Mr. Weston (played by Rupert Graves). (The book begins after Emma has attended the wedding.) Because Emma had introduced the Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston to each other, Emma feels that she has what it takes to play matchmaker to the unmarried people in her social circle. It’s at the wedding that viewers are introduced to most of the story’s main characters.

Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse (played by Bill Nighy), is a loving dad but often exasperated by Emma’s antics. He’s a hypochondriac who tries to shield himself from imaginary drafts of cold that he’s sure will cause him to get sick.

George Knightley (played by Johnny Flynn) is the handsome and cynical brother-in-law of Emma’s older sister Isabella (played by Chloe Pirrie). He thinks Emma can be an annoying meddler, but he nevertheless seems fascinated by what she does.

Mr. Elton (played by Josh O’Connor) is a social-climbing local vicar who has his eye on courting Emma, mostly because of her wealth and privilege. He’s unaware that Emma doesn’t see him has husband material.

Miss Bates (played by Miranda Hart) is a friendly, middle-aged spinster who is slightly ashamed about being unmarried at her age. She lives with her mother, Mrs. Bates (played by Myra McFadyen), who is a friend of Mr. Woodhouse.

Missing from the wedding is Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill (played by Callum Turner), who has a different last name because he was adopted by his aunt, who is frequently ill. Frank chose to stay home with his aunt instead of attending his father’s wedding.

Emma, who says multiple times in the story that she has no interest in getting married, nevertheless takes it upon herself to tell other people who would be suitable spouses for them. She starts with her gullible best friend Harriet (played by Mia Goth), a slightly younger woman of unknown parentage who idolizes Emma for being more glamorous and seemingly more worldly than Harriet is. Knightley can see that Harriet will be easily manipulated by Emma, and he expresses disapproval over Emma befriending Harriet.

A local farmer named Mr. Martin (played by Connor Swindells) has asked Harriet to marry him, but Emma convinces Harriet to decline the proposal. Why? Even though Mr. Martin is kind and clearly adores Harriet, Emma thinks that Harriet deserves to marry someone who’s higher up on the social ladder. As far as Emma is concerned, Mr. Elton would be an ideal husband for Harriet, so Emma sets out to pair up Harriet and Mr. Elton, whom Emma describes as “such a good-humored man.” It’s too bad that Emma doesn’t see that his humor is really buffoonery.

Mr. Knightley occasionally stops by to visit the Woodhouses, and he warns Emma not to interfere in other people’s love lives. He thinks Mr. Elton would be a terrible match for Harriet. Mr. Knightley is right, of course, but Emma ignores his warnings. Emma begins to manipulate communications between Harriet and Mr. Elton, with the goal that they will end up together and happily married. At one point in the story, Emma and Mr. Knightley have a big argument and they stop talking to each other.

Meanwhile, a new ingenue comes on the scene named Jane Fairfax (played by  Amber Anderson), who is the orphaned niece of Miss Bates. Jane (who is close to Emma’s age) is attractive, intelligent, talented. And everyone seems to be gushing about how wonderful she is, so Emma gets jealous. As Emma complains in a catty moment, “One is very sick of the name Jane Fairfax!”

Frank Churchill, a very eligible bachelor, begins spending more time in the area. And it isn’t long before Emma has thoughts about who would make a suitable wife for him.

However, things don’t go as planned in Emma’s matchmaking schemes. A series of events (and a love triangle or two) make Emma frustrated that things aren’t going her way. Unlike most heroines of romantic stories, Emma can be very difficult, since she can be bossy, selfish and occasionally rude. However, there are moments when she redeems herself, such as when she tries to make amends for her mistakes. If you know anything about romantic comedies and don’t know anything about how “Emma” ends, you can still figure out what will happen and if she’ll fall in love.

One of the changes made in this “Emma” screenplay (written by Eleanor Catton) that’s different from the book is that it puts more heat in the characters’ sexuality, with a makeout scene that’s definitely not described in the book. Another change is Emma shows more acknowledgement of people in the working-class, such as her servants and Mr. Martin, by interacting with them more than she does in the novel.

As Emma, actress Taylor-Joy brings a little bit more of a “hot mess” attitude to the role than Gwyneth Paltrow did when she starred in 1996’s “Emma.” Whereas Paltrow’s version of Emma was the epitome of prim and proper, Taylor-Joy’s version gives the impression that she would be ready to show her legs or knickers under the right circumstances. And as Mr. Knightley, Flynn’s pouty-lipped delivery gives him a smoldering quality that Jeremy Northam’s Mr. Knightley didn’t quite have in 1996’s “Emma.”

“Emma” director de Wilde comes from a music-video background (she’s helmed several videos for rock singer Beck), and perhaps this background explains why this version of “Emma” has a snappy rhythm to the pacing, which is sort of a tribute to 1940s screwball comedies. This pacing is subtle if this is the first version of “Emma” that someone might see, but it’s more noticeable when compared to other movie and TV versions of “Emma,” which tend to be more leisurely paced.

This version of “Emma” is also pitch-perfect when it comes to its costume design (by Alexandra Byrne), production design (by Kave Quinn), art direction (by Alice Sutton) and set decoration (by Stella Fox), because everything will feel like you’ve been transported to the luxrious English estates of the era. The costume design in particular is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

“Emma” certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for people who don’t like watching period pieces about stuffy British people. However, fans of Austen’s “Emma” novel will find a lot to enjoy about this memorable movie adaptation.

Focus Features released “Emma” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “Emma” to March 20, 2020.

Review: ‘Premature’ (2020), starring Zora Howard and Joshua Boone

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joshua Boone and Zora Howard in “Premature” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Premature” (2020)

Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the predominantly African American cast of characters, who are mostly in their late teens and early 20s, represent the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The main characters have to decide if they’ll go to college or do other things with their lives.

Culture Audience: “Premature” will appeal to viewers looking for a well-acted African American story, but the movie recycles the same, often-negative clichés about young black people in urban settings.

Zora Howard and Joshua Boone in “Premature” (Photo by Laura Valladao)

Here’s the thing about movies with predominantly African American casts: Too many of them show black people in crime-ridden areas, where they’re at risk of being criminals too, if they aren’t criminals already. There’s at least one single mother who’s constantly yelling at her kid(s), perpetuating the “angry black woman” image and the image that black men abandon their kids. These are tired and lazy stereotypes that are perpetuated by too many filmmakers, even African American filmmakers.

The reality is that African Americans are much more diverse that what’s depicted in movies. Most African Americans aren’t poor and aren’t criminals. Most African American men aren’t deadbeat losers. Most African American women aren’t single mothers by the time they’re 21.

The challenge for filmmakers is to show more of that diversity and stop falling back on overused tropes that fuel a lot of damaging racist agendas. That doesn’t mean dismissing the very real struggles of African Americans, because these struggles need to be shown on screen. But there’s no creativity in doing that over and over and ignoring many other aspects of African American life that aren’t about criminal activity or unplanned pregnancies.

With all that said, the African American drama “Premature” shows hints of breaking out of those confining boxes, even though it falls into the same clichés seen in so many other movies about young African Americans in a big city. Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, “Premature” (his second feature film) is about two New York City residents in their late teens who have reached that post-high-school point in their lives when they’re deciding their goals and career aspirations. They unexpectedly fall in love, and their future plans might be affected by this romance.

Ayanna (played by Zora Howard, who wrote the “Premature” screenplay with Green) is a pretty, thoughtful and somewhat shy woman who is an aspiring poet. She’s headed to Bucknell University (a private liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania) in the fall. But, for now, she’s enjoying her last summer before becoming a college student. Her circle of female friends seem to have no plans for college and talk in Ebonics, which is why Ayanna is different from them. One of her friends is an obnoxious, foul-mouthed single mother named Tenita (played by Alexis Marie Wint), who’s always yelling at her daughter. The Tenita character is such a cringeworthy “ghetto” stereotype.

Isaiah (played by Joshua Boone) is an aspiring musician/producer, who’s getting some knowledge and experience by hanging out at a small recording studio frequented by local artists who are also seeking to make it big someday. Isaiah is confident, friendly and a lot more respectful than some of his trash-talking friends who see women as nothing more than sexual conquests.

Ayanna and Isaiah first see each other on a basketball court. They lock eyes, as the central couple always does in a romantic drama, and they strike up a conversation. Ayanna plays hard to get, but eventually she and Isaiah start dating each other. She tells him from the beginning that she’s going to Bucknell in the fall, but they decide they’ll figure out their relationship as they go along.

Ayanna lives in a cramped Harlem apartment with her single mother Sarita (played by Michelle Wilson), who has a somewhat tense relationship with Ayanna. It’s clear that Ayanna doesn’t care for her mother’s taste in boyfriends, and the current boyfriend is no exception. The boyfriend isn’t abusive, but Ayanna seems to resent that he takes up space when he’s there visiting. At any rate, Ayanna can’t wait to move out and have her own place.

Shortly after Ayanna and Isaiah become lovers, their relationship hits a jealousy bump in the road. One evening, he and Ayanna are spending some time playing cards with friends when a young white woman who’s close to their age shows up unannounced and insists on speaking to Isaiah in private. By the way she’s acting, it’s very easy to see that she and Isaiah have been “more than friends.”

When Isaiah comes back in the room, the normally quiet Ayanna explodes with hostility and asks Isaiah who the other woman was and what his relationship is to her. Isaiah is taken aback at Ayanna’s jealousy and admits that it was a woman he’d been sleeping with, but their relationship ended before he met Ayanna. He just didn’t tell the other woman that he was dating someone new, and she found out through other people, which is why she was upset with him. Ayanna accepts Isaiah’s explanation, but she starts to wonder if he’s the type of person who plays games with the women he dates. She pulls back a little from him and decides that since she’s going away to college soon, it’s not worth investing her heart with him.

On another night, at a house party that Ayanna goes to without Isaiah, a young man ask her to dance. Feeling like she’s technically single, Ayanna starts grinding on the guy while they’re dancing. Unbeknownst to her, Isaiah has shown up at the party too. She doesn’t see him, but he sees her grinding on another man. Looking visibly hurt, Isaiah leaves the party. The next time he sees Ayanna, it’s his turn to be irritated with her because he’s jealous. They argue some more and then make up. And as they spend more time together, they inevitably fall in love.

It’s interesting how much the story coincidentally mirrors writer/director Horace B. Jenkins’ early 1980s movie “Cane River,” which was also about two African American young people who fall in love over the summer before the woman in the relationship plans to move away to go to college. In this story, they also have to decide whether to end the relationship or continue it long-distance. (“Cane River,” which was set in Louisiana, was originally going to be released in 1982, but then Jenkins died that year, and the movie was finally released in 2020.)

The biggest difference though is that in “Premature,” something happens that’s a big cliché in love stories about African American teenagers. (Hint: Birth control is not seen or discussed in this movie.) And so, “Premature” is yet another movie that has this cliché, which obviously has a massive effect on the couple’s relationship.

The cast’s realistic acting in “Premature” is what elevates a lot of this not-very-original story, whose ending is very easy to predict because it’s the type of story that’s been told many times on screen already. As a director, Green shows a lot of talent in casting and editing choices. It’s the “Premature” screenplay that’s problematic. (But to its credit, the last half of the “Premature” screenplay is much better than the first half.)

Anyone who thinks this is an original way to portray black teenagers is someone who hasn’t seen a lot of African American films. And let’s face it: There are some people who are more comfortable with certain negative stereotypes of African Americans, even if it’s not a realistic depiction of African Americans overall.

One of the best scenes in the movie has nothing to do with the up-and-down romance of Ayanna and Isaiah. The scene takes place in a recording studio, where Isaiah and other young artists get into a spirited discussion about how much responsibility artists, especially black artists, should have in putting social messages in their art. It’s a great scene because it shows the characters without the caricature-like Ebonics that are in the movie’s other scenes and instead shows the characters talking as well-rounded, intelligent people with diverse points of view, without losing their ethnic pride.

“Premature” doesn’t show Ayanna at college, but that’s the kind of movie that would’ve been more interesting than what “Premature” is. Justin Simien’s 2014 comedy “Dear White People” and Spike Lee’s 1988 musical “School Daze” are two of the rare theatrical-release movies with predominantly African American casts that take place at a university. (It says a lot that these movies were released 26 years apart.) There are millions of African Americans who are college graduates, but a black college student is almost never the lead character in a movie. This is an example of the type of African American who is underrepresented in movies about African Americans.

There are many people in this world who have little to no contact with African Americans, so they get their impressions from what they see on screen. If you were to go by how young black people are depicted in movies, you’d think that young black men mainly aspire to be athletes, entertainers or criminals. There are plenty of hard-working, law-abiding young black people who have different aspirations for professions where they won’t be considered “too old” by the time they’re 35. Let’s see more of those young people depicted in movies. Unfortunately, “Premature” stays in that predictable zone and doesn’t take the types of diverse, creative risks that are very much needed in telling African American stories in cinema.

IFC Films released “Premature” in New York City and Los Angeles on February 21, 2020. The movie’s U.S. theatrical release expands to more cities in subsequent weeks.

Review: ‘Seberg,’ starring Kristen Stewart

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Seberg”

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, France and briefly in Mexico, the biographical drama “Seberg” has a racially diverse cast of white and black characters representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: The film tells the story of American actress Jean Seberg, who was the target of FBI surveillance because of her support of left-wing civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jean Seberg, Kristen Stewart (who plays Seberg in the movie) and people who like movies that have a very Hollywood version of real-life politically related events.

Jack O’Connell in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The title of the “based on true story” drama “Seberg” should have been renamed “Seberg and Some FBI Guy Who Tried to Warn Her That They’re Out to Get Her.” That’s because even though the movie is supposed to be about American actress Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart) during the first few years that she was the target of a political FBI intimidation campaign, much of the movie also focuses on the life of fictional FBI agent Jack Solomon (played by Jack O’Connell), one of the people tasked with making her life hell but he has a guilty conscience about it.

It’s one of the many disappointing choices made by the filmmakers of “Seberg,” which was directed by Benedict Andrews and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Based on the end results of how this movie was made, the filmmakers didn’t think Seberg was fascinating enough to show a more well-rounded view of her life, and instead they gave a lot of screen time to show the personal life of a fictional FBI agent.

Because Jack Solomon is a fictional character and the filmmakers want to make sure that his personal story is given almost as much weight as Seberg’s, the movie cheapens her real-life ordeal by spending so much time on backstories/subplots for other characters that were invented for this movie. There’s even a cliché “good cop/bad cop” duo that is the epitome of trite screenwriting.

Seberg was 40 years old when she died of an apparent suicide in Paris in 1979. The movie mainly depicts the years 1969 to 1971, when Seberg was one of the people targeted in the FBI’s then-secret COINTELPRO campaign, which investigated and harassed high-profile and influential people involved in left-wing politics. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the media revealed details of COINTELPRO, which was under the leadership of then-FBI director Herbert Hoover, a known right-winger. The exposé of COINTELPRO happened after Seberg’s death.

“Seberg” begins with a brief scene with the actress filming her first movie, 1957’s “Saint Joan,” which was a critical and commercial flop, but that rough start to her movie career is not really mentioned in “Seberg.” The movie also skips over her turbulent first marriage to French attorney-turned-film-director François Moreuil (they were married from 1958 to 1960) and their contentious collaboration when he directed her in the 1961 film “Time Out for Love.”

Also omitted from the story is how she met and married her second husband: aviator/novelist/left-leaning political diplomat Romain Gary, who was 24 years older than Seberg. Gary was her husband from 1962 to 1970. (She gave birth to their son, Alexandre Diego, when Gary was still married to his previous wife.) And the movie definitely doesn’t show what happened to Jean after her much-maligned “Saint Joan” film debut, when she went on to experience international stardom with her breakthrough co-starring role in the 1960 French New Wave classic “Breathless.”

Instead, “Seberg” skips over all of that to show Jean, Romain (played by Yvan Attal) and their young son Diego (played by Gabriel Sky) at their home in France, where Jean says goodbye to them as she leaves to work on a movie in Los Angeles in 1969. (During most of her career, Seberg lived in France and made French and American films, so she spent a lot of time in the U.S. for work.)

While she’s headed to Los Angeles, two FBI agents (who are invented characters for this movie) are shown eavesdropping and doing surveillance recording of an African American political radical named Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie), who is a Black Panther supporter but not an official member of the Black Panther Party. (The Hakim character is based on the real-life Raymond Hewitt, who was a member of the Black Panther Party.) One of the FBI agents is the aforementioned Jack Solomon, and the other is Carl Kowalski (played by Vince Vaughn).

It’s established fairly early on in the movie who’s the “good cop” and who’s the “bad cop.” While Jack takes a more open-minded and methodical approach to his work, Carl takes a more aggressive “witch hunt” approach. While they’re spying on Hakim, the name of Jean Seberg comes up because the FBI has noticed that she’s been donating large sums of money to left-leaning civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers and the NAACP. Carl thinks that the FBI should start spying on Seberg too, but Jack doesn’t want to rush to judgment and wants to see if there’s proof that she’s a threat to the U.S. government.

While sitting in the first-class section on the plane to Los Angeles with her agent Walt Breckman (played by Stephen Root, in another of the movie’s fictional character roles), Jean notices a commotion on the plane. It’s Hakim, who’s very angry with a flight attendant because Betty Shabazz (Malcom X’s widow) has been seated in the coach section, when Hakim says that Betty should be in the first-class section. It’s a “don’t you know who she is/show some respect” moment that catches the flustered flight-attendant off-guard.

The flight attendant tells Hakim that she can’t make the accommodation without a first-class ticket, and Hakim gets even angrier and says that he will pay for the ticket himself and he’s not going to sit down until the matter is resolved. Hakim makes it clear that he thinks the flight attendant is being racist. Jean is intrigued by Hakim’s fiery passion and tells him that he and Betty can have her and Walt’s seats. Walt looks slightly horrified.

The next thing you know, after the plane disembarks, Hakim is among a group of Black Panthers on the tarmac holding a photo op with the press.  (Remember, this was back in the 1960s, when people were allowed to be in certain areas of an airport where they can’t go now.) Jean sidles up to the group and holds up her fist in a “Black Power” gesture with them to show her solidarity.

Of course, this bold move doesn’t go unnoticed by Jack and Carl (or should we say Mutt and Jeff), who now know that Jean Seberg has definitely made it known to the public that she supports the Black Panthers, who were considered enemies of the state at the time. And in case viewers haven’t figured out that Carl is a racist, he makes it clear when he speculates why Jean wants to hang out with Hakim and the Black Panthers: “Who knows? Maybe she’s got a taste for dark meat on the bone.”

And wouldn’t you know, it isn’t long before Jean shows up in the middle of the night at the house where a married Hakim is staying to meet with other radical activists. While alone in the house, Hakim and Jean spend a little time flirting, and then they hop into bed together. The FBI has recorded it all.

Carl is infuriated and immediately wants to put Jean under intense surveillance, since he’s decided she’s now a “danger to society.” The movie implies that what really triggered the FBI witch hunt against her wasn’t the monetary donations to activists but because this famous white actress slept with a known black radical.

Carl takes this information to his superiors, and it isn’t long before the FBI approves of spying on and harassing Jean Seberg. While she’s away from her rented home to work on a film set, Jack breaks into the home and plants a bugging device on her phone. Meanwhile, as Hakim and Jean continue their hot’n’heavy affair, Hakim warns her that because he’s under FBI surveillance, she’ll become a target too.

At first, Jean doesn’t believe Hakim, but she eventually finds out the hard way how correct he was. Jean starts hanging out more with radical activists and donating money to their causes. She doesn’t believe in violence and instead chooses to support causes such as educational programs for kids and raising money to help improve low-income African American communities. Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (played by Grantham Coleman) makes a very brief appearance in the story.

Hakim is more than happy to take Jean’s donations, but he tells Jean: “You’re running in here with nails looking for a cross to die on … You’re playing with fire.” We’ll never know if the real Jean Seberg ever received this type of corny lecture, but the words are particularly cringeworthy, considering that the real Jean Seberg starred in “Saint Joan,” a movie where she played French heroine Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake.

Another thing that Hakim says to Jean that sounds straight out of Hokey Screenwriting 101 is when he tells her his philosophy on civil-rights activism: “One mind at a time. If you can change that, you can change the world.” He sounds more like Mother Teresa than Malcolm X.

There’s also a soap-opera-ish subplot where Hakim’s wife, Dorothy Jamal (played by Zazie Beetz, in a thankless role), finds out about the affair. How does she find out? Carl and Jack call her anonymously and play her a recording of Jean and Hakim having sex.

Not long after Dorothy confronts Jean about the affair (and Dorothy is a lot calmer about it than most spouses would be), Jean and Hakim end their fling. But the wheels have already been set in motion for the FBI to make Jean’s life miserable. She’s followed everywhere she goes, and she knows her house is bugged. And one day when she’s away at work, a bumbling FBI agent kills her Chihuahua because the dog won’t stop yapping when the agent is snooping around the house.

Speaking of FBI agents, the movie wastes a lot of time showing the personal lives of Jack and Carl. Jack’s wife Linette (played by Margaret Qualley) is a medical student who becomes increasingly disturbed by the signs that the FBI is harassing Jean Seberg. How does she know? Because Jack brings home FBI files that show the FBI is stalking Jean, and her leaves this paperwork indiscreetly out on the kitchen table. When Linette asks Jack about these files, he snaps at her and tells her it’s none of her business. There are also a few unnecessary scenes of Jack and Linette socializing with friends.

Meanwhile, Carl is every bit the jerk at home as he is on the job. His wife and young daughter cringe in fear when he loses his temper, which is pretty much any time they don’t do what he tells them to do. It turns out that Carl has a particular hatred of left-wingers because his adult son (who lives in San Francisco) has become a radical hippie. Did viewers really need to know all of this information for fictional characters? No.

“Seberg” then goes to even more ludicrous levels when Jack takes it upon himself to anonymously call Jean and warn her that the FBI harassment will get worse unless she disassociates herself from the civil-rights movement. Jean’s response is to yell an obscenity at him. You can’t really blame her, because she doesn’t know if the call is a prank or not, since Jack doesn’t identify himself.

The constant surveillance and harassment take a toll on Jean’s mental health and her marriage. She starts to drink heavily and she becomes very paranoid. While on a film set, she demands that a cameraman be fired because she’s convinced he’s a spy planted by the FBI. She yells at people who she thinks might be staring at her too long. And there’s one melodramatic scene where she’s tearing up a room while looking for surveillance, and she ends up in a sobbing heap on the floor.

While in Mexico filming a movie, she has an affair with a local man. And when the FBI hears about her pregnancy, they make sure to plant a story in the media that Hakim is the father. The scandal resulted in a tragedy that won’t be revealed in this review if you don’t know what happened in real life.

Stewart gives a hit-and-miss performance in this film. She’s at her best in the first half of the story, when there are glimpses of the passions that drove Jean to do what she did, knowing that she would risk her reputation and career. But when Jean goes through her downward spiral in the second half of the story, Stewart’s performance becomes a not-very-convincing caricature of a woman having a nervous breakdown. And FBI agent Jack does something at the end of the movie that defies all credibility of what someone in his position would do.

Unfortunately, because the movie skips all of Jean’s life before she got involved in radical activism, it doesn’t provide any context over what led her to this point and how she came to have these political views. Her relationship with second husband Romain is also an incomplete sketch, since viewers never see how Jean and Romain fell in love, as a basis of their marriage that’s tested during this traumatic period in their lives.

The movie’s supporting actors, costume design and production design are all very good, but those assets are wasted on an uneven story that oddly seems too concerned with making a heroic figure out of one of the FBI agents who willingly participated in this psychological torture.

Amazon Studios released “Seberg” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020. The movie originally had a very limited U.S. release in December 2019, to qualify for awards.

Review: ‘Goldie,’ starring Slick Woods

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Slick Woods in “Goldie” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Goldie”

Directed by Sam De Jong

Culture Representation: Set in the tough streets of New York City’s Bronx borough, this suspenseful drama has a predominantly African American cast of characters representing the poor and middle class.

Culture Clash: An 18-year-old aspiring dancer, who’s fixated on getting a yellow coat to wear in a music video, finds herself unexpectedly taking care of her underage sisters while trying to hide from child welfare authorities.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people interested in stories about urban street life, from the perspective of African American characters.

Slick Woods in "Goldie"
Slick Woods in “Goldie” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Goldie” takes viewers on a frenetic ride over a few days in the life of sassy aspiring dancer Goldie (played by Slick Woods, in a charismatic feature-film debut), an 18-year-old who lives in New York City’s Bronx borough. Goldie unexpectedly finds herself taking care of her underage younger sisters while trying to dodge Child Protective Services. Along the way, she learns things about herself and what she really wants out of life.

In the beginning of the movie, Goldie’s only preoccupation seems to be figuring out a way to get her big break as a dancer. She’s seen running through the streets to get to New Hope Community Center, where she performs a hip-hop dance routine for an audience of mostly underage kids and their parents. She then calls her 12-year-old sister Supreme (Jazmyn C. Dorsey) up on stage, so Supreme can play the drums in a separate performance, which ends when Goldie and another girl dance on stage with Supreme. It looks like a carefree moment, but Goldie’s life at home isn’t so happy-go-lucky.

Goldie lives in a shelter, where she shares one room with her single mother, Carol played by (Marsha Stephanie Blake); Carol’s drug-dealing boyfriend Frank (played by Danny Hoch); and Goldie’s half-sisters Supreme and  8-year-old Sherrie (played by Alanna Renee Tyler-Tompkins). It all sounds like it’s going to be one of those typical “urban ghetto” stories that have been told too many times before.

However, writer/director Sam De Jong (who happens to be Dutch) infuses the movie with a lot of visual elements that work well by striking a balance between making the movie gritty yet occasionally whimsical. For example, in some of the scenes, a graffiti-like colorful palette surrounds the people in the movie, giving the impression that they are a living urban mural.

And when a new character is introduced, we hear the voice of Sherrie or Supreme saying the character’s name, as an artsy urban graphic appears showing the name on the screen. It’s because of these unique touches that “Goldie” doesn’t completely fall into a lot of the clichés about African Americans who are involved in “street life.”

The movie is also more than a coming-of-age story. It’s a chase movie with a twist: Instead of trying to escape from the police or criminals (which is the usual story in “urban” movies), the protagonist is trying to keep her family together by trying to escape from Child Protective Services.

Unfortunately, one negative stereotype that “Goldie” keeps perpetuating is the idea that young African Americans are always committing crimes. Goldie and most of the people in her social circle break the law on a regular basis, not necessarily for survival but just for the hell of it. And for most of the story, she’s in materialistic pursuit of getting enough money to buy a long canary-yellow faux-fur coat that she’s convinced will be her lucky charm if she can get to wear it in a music video.

The music video that she hopes will be her big break is for a local rapper named Tiny (played by real-life hop-hop star A$AP Ferg), who’s had some success on the charts, and he’s planning to film his next music video that weekend. Goldie meets with an acquaintance named Jay (played by Khris Davis), who has the connections to recommend Goldie to be a dancer in the video. Jay says that he’ll think about recommending her if she can film an audition video. If he likes what he sees, he says that he can pass it along to the right people.

Just when she’s planning on which outfit to buy for her audition, Goldie gets fired from her job at a discount clothing store because of chronic tardiness. She refuses to leave her boss’ office after she gets fired, so he calls security on her, and they literally have to throw her out.

When she passes by the store with the yellow coat in the display window,  and she asks the owner to try on the coat. He says she can only try it on if she shows that she has the money to buy it. The store owner’s excuse is that because the coat is in the display window, he can’t let just anyone try it on.

Here’s where the negative stereotypes start for Goldie: She shoplifts a skimpy gold outfit that looks like a combination one-piece bathing suit and jumper, because she thinks she needs to dress like a video vixen to get noticed in the audition video. On the one hand, it’s realistic to show that young women are expected to dress this way in rap videos. On the other hand, it’s kind of disappointing that the movie made Goldie a thief to get a cheap-looking, sleazy outfit. With the help of Supreme, Goldie films her audition using her phone and wearing the outfit.

Meanwhile, back at home, Goldie gets upset with Frank because he’s doing drug deals out of their room while her younger sisters are nearby. She scolds Frank and her mother by saying that she doesn’t want Supreme and Sherrie to see any of the drug deals. Goldie’s conflict with Frank escalates when he says that $300 of his is missing, and he accuses Goldie of stealing the money. She denies it, and they end up in a physical fight with Goldie spraying Frank in the face with hot pink spray paint.

Things go from bad to worse for Goldie when her mother is arrested for reasons that are not stated in the movie. The police, who have a warrant, arrest Carol at the shelter. Goldie doesn’t stick around for Child Protective Services to show up, because she figures that Supreme and Sherrie will be separated. Goldie takes off with her sisters and then begins a desperate search for a place to hide until they can find out what will happen to their mother.

Before Goldie runs away from the shelter with the girls, she grabs a bunch of items, including her mother’s prescription pills (about 150), with the intent to sell the pills. Even in this dire situation, Goldie still has it in her head that she wants to be in Tiny’s music video that weekend, so her scheme to raise money isn’t just for food and shelter but so she can also buy that yellow coat.

This strange dichotomy shows how brash and illogical teenagers can be when they’re not fully mature enough to make responsible choices and think about long-term consequences. On the one hand, Goldie has a certain level of street smarts. On the other hand, Goldie is very naïve about how the music business works, because she doesn’t seem to know that being a dancer in a music video for a C-list rapper isn’t going to solve her money problems. There are minimum wage jobs that pay more than being what amounts to a glorified extra in a low-budget music video.

As she races from place to place, Goldie is looking for someone to buy her pills and give her somewhere to stay. The people she asks for help react in different ways.

One is a woman named Janet (played by Edwina Findley Dickerson), who’s close to Carol’s age and lives by herself in a house. Another is Goldie’s friend Elijah, nicknamed Eli (played by George Sample III), who doesn’t want to get too involved because he’s out on parole and doesn’t want to be arrested again.

She also turns to a drug dealer named Jose (played by Jose Fernandez), who is Goldie’s occasional lover, to see if he’ll buy the pills. And she also tries to sell the pills to her former co-worker enemy Princess (played by Angela Griszell), who has a long blonde wig that Goldie ends up stealing because she wants to wear it for the music video shoot.

And as a last resort, Goldie goes to her estranged biological father Richard, (played by Gbenga Akinnagbe), who works for the U.S. Postal Service and has started a new family with another woman. Because the movie’s cast is a mixture of professional actors and non-professional actors who live in the area where the movie was filmed, there’s an authenticity to these characters that probably wouldn’t be there if only experienced actors were in the cast.

On the surface, it might seem silly that Goldie is so focused on getting enough money for a coat, while her life is falling apart with bigger problems. But a closer look at how she’s acting shows that it’s really not about the coat, but what it symbolizes—her best shot at being discovered as a dancer so she can pursue her dream career that she hopes will be the path to a much better life. What she discovers at the end of the story is what kind of person she wants to be in order to pursue that dream.

Film Movement released “Goldie” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 21, 2020.

Review: ‘Kill the Monsters,’ starring Ryan Lonergan, Jack Ball and Garrett McKechnie

February 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ryan Lonergan, Jack Ball and Garrett McKechnie in "Kill the Monsters"
Ryan Lonergan, Jack Ball and Garrett McKechnie in “Kill the Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures)

“Kill the Monsters”

Directed by Ryan Lonergan

Culture Representation: Taking place during a road trip that starts in New York City and ends up in Los Angeles, the satirical drama “Kill the Monsters” has a predominantly white LGBTQ cast of characters doing a modern re-enactment of key points in U.S. history.

Culture Clash: The three main characters represent the United States, while other characters portray various entities that have had conflicts with the U.S.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to audiences who are looking for unique LGBTQ stories and people who are U.S. history buffs.

Jack Ball in “Kill the Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures)

What do you get when you cross a gay threesome with U.S. history lessons? You get the audacious and all-over-the-place satirical drama “Kill the Monsters,” which is made for people who won’t be offended by the idea that three men who have hot’n’heavy gay sex with each other are a metaphor for the United States. It’s a unique concept that works best if viewers really know U.S. history. Otherwise, too much of the story (which is subtitled “An American Allegory”) will be confusing.

Filmed entirely in black and white, “Kill the Monsters” is divided into nine chapters that represent pivotal moments in U.S. history. At the center of the story are three characters who are in a ménage à trois relationship: Patrick (played by Ryan Lonergan) is the sensible and bossy alpha male; Sutton (played by Garrett McKechnie) is the hedonistic partier; and Frankie (played by Jack Ball) is their younger idealistic partner. In order to fully understand this movie, it helps to know from the beginning that Patrick, Sutton and Frankie represent the United States. If not, then only a keen knowledge of U.S. history will help you understand what’s going on during the course of the movie.

“Kill the Monsters” is the feature-film directorial debut of Lonergan, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay. His Patrick character also has the snappiest dialogue in the movie, which has a lot of people talking as if they’re amped up on caffeine or a drug that’s a lot stronger. There are also quick edits and jump cuts that can be somewhat distracting. Clocking in at just 77 minutes, “Kill the Monsters” is a movie that doesn’t give much time for people to digest a scene before moving on to the next scene. In contrast to the modernist short-attention-span editing techniques, the film’s pomp-and-circumstance classical score (with music by Jean Sibelius Music and performed by Iceland Symphony Orchestra) is the kind of music that sounds like it would be in a history documentary.

The movie’s production notes don’t really say which aspects of the United States that Patrick, Sutton and Frankie are supposed to represent, but at the beginning of the film, there’s a hypothetical quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.” The quote is shown after an intro scene in New York City’s Central Park, with Patrick and Sutton walking toward Frankie, who’s lying down on a blanket.

One could easily make a case for this theory: The three central characters are symbols for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” one of the best-known phrases from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Patrick represents life, because he’s the engine that drives a lot of what happens in the three-way relationship. Sutton represents liberty because he’s a free-spirited libertine with decadent ways. Frankie represents the pursuit of happiness, since he has a youthful restlessness that make the other two partners think he might get bored with them and move on to something else that will make him happy. Or maybe that’s overthinking it all, and Lonergan just wanted an excuse to do a movie with full-frontal male nudity and showing three men having sex with each other in several scenes.

In the beginning of the film (the first chapter, titled “1776”), Patrick, Sutton and Frankie are living together in New York City. Frankie is working for an older British woman, who’s difficult and overbearing, so he ends up quitting. This is obviously a representation of the United States declaring its independence from the United Kingdom. Throughout the story, Frankie is battling a mysterious ailment (he’s seen at a doctor’s office), which represents the various social ills that the U.S. has faced throughout the country’s history.

Frankie wants to move west to California because he thinks that will improve his health. Patrick doesn’t really want to move, but Sutton is fine with the idea. So the three men leave New York City and decide they’ll move west by going on a road trip. Frankie also says that the doctor has increased his medications. This happens in the movie’s second chapter, titled “1803,” which represents when the U.S. expanded its territory with the Louisiana Purchase.

The third chapter, titled “1861,” signals the start of the U.S. civil war. And there’s a civil war brewing in this polyamorous relationship. Sutton is abusing cocaine and marijuana. Patrick doesn’t like it and argues with him about his drug use. Patrick gets even more upset when Sutton tells him that he wants Frankie to do drugs with him.

The other chapters cover 1865, the year the Civil War ended; the Compromise of 1877; the beginning of reparations/restitutions in 1900; America’s first full year in World War II in 1942; the end of World War II in 1945; the 9/11 attacks in 2001; and President Donald Trump’s first year in office in 2017.

All of the other characters in the movie that have alliances or conflicts with the United States are played by women. A character named Edith (played by Zuhairah McGill) is a mutual cousin (by marriage) of Patrick and Sutton, and she represents corporate business.

After the trio has moved to California, they live in an apartment with neighbors that include lesbian couple: One of the women is an older German who dominates her much-younger submissive partner, who’s Jewish.

Another lesbian couple in the building are Iranians, and they’re irritated by their Iraqi neighbors whom they think are making too much noise. So the Iranian neighbors ask the trio that represents the U.S. for money to help them to soundproof their apartment from the noise the Iraqis are making.

And there’s the character of Cathy (played by Ellen Etten), who’s described as “a crazy lady from television” that the trio debates over whether or not to put in charge of their business affairs. The character of Cathy is obviously a symbol for Trump.

“Kill the Monsters” is definitely not a film for everyone. The movie’s high concept works well in some areas, but falls very flat in other areas. It would be interesting if this concept is ever made into a play, because the target audience for this concept is really the type of people of a certain education level who like to go to plays. The movie’s explicit sex scenes just seem to be a gimmick to get people to notice the film. “Kill the Monsters” really isn’t about the sexuality of the characters. The movie is essentially a political statement on where America has been and where the filmmakers think the nation is going.

Breaking Glass Pictures released “Kill the Monsters” on DVD and VOD on February 18, 2020.

Review: ‘You Go to My Head,’ starring Delfine Bafort and Svetoczar Cvetkovic

February 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Svetozar Cvetkovic and Delfine Bafort in “You Go to My Head” (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

“You Go to My Head”

Directed by Dimitri de Clercq

Culture Representation: Set in Morocco, the psychological drama “You Go to My Head” centers on a two white European characters: a middle-aged, reclusive architect and the mysterious young woman with amnesia whom he’s fooled into thinking that she’s his wife.

Culture Clash: The architect goes to certain lengths to keep his disturbing secret, knowing that the woman he’s tricked could find out the truth and leave him.

Culture Audience: “You Go to My Head” will appeal mostly to people who like atmospheric arthouse films, but the movie’s impressive cinematography can’t make up for the silly plot and substandard acting.

Delfine Bafort in “You Go to My Head” (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

“You Go to My Head” is a perfect example of a movie that has artsy aspirations but the story is the equivalent of a bad sketch that belongs in the garbage. There are children who could come up with a better plot than the one concocted by Dimitri de Clercq (who directed this movie), Pierre Bourdy and Rosemary Ricchio, who all wrote the movie’s screenplay. It’s a shame, because many other elements of the movie work very well, especially the gorgeous cinematography by Stijn Grupping and the sometimes perfectly eerie musical score by Hacène Larbi. But the movie’s story is just so maddingly dull and insipid that it’s a near-miracle that people were willing to put up money to have this ridiculous story made into a movie.

“You Go to My Head” begins at the scene of a car accident in the middle of the Moroccan desert, where a car is toppled over on its side. The male driver is dead or unconscious, and the female passenger (played by Delfine Bafort) has a bleeding head injury, but manages to escape from the car. The next 15 minutes are a mostly silent slog through the desert, as the woman tries to find help and grows weak from lack of food and water. She stumbles onto a well, and screams in despair when she sees that the water in the well is too far for her to reach.

After she collapses from the heat and exhaustion, a middle-aged man (played by Svetoczar Cvetkovic) drives up in his jeep and sees her lying on the ground, nearly unconscious. He gives her water, carries her to his jeep, and drives her to a small, isolated adobe house, where he places her on a bed to recover from her ordeal. A doctor visits the house and assumes that the woman is the man’s wife, and the man doesn’t correct him. The doctor tells the man that she will recover from her bleeding wounds, but she’s in shock and has amnesia, and it’s unknown if she will get her memory back.

As the man creepily looks at the attractive young woman in the bed, you can almost hear him thinking that he’s going to take advantage of the situation. And he does. The woman doesn’t have any identification on her except for a Hello Kitty watch with an inscription on the back. He steals the watch and hides it. And guess what this wacko decides to name this mystery woman? Kitty.

When she regains enough consciousness to be able to talk, she asks him if she can go home. He tells her that his name is Jake and that he’s her husband, she was in a car accident, and they’re staying at a hotel until she’s well enough to go back home with him. The woman eyes him suspiciously while he feeds her soup, but not once does she ask any important questions, such as “How do I know you’re not lying to me? Where’s my identification? If this is a hotel, where is everyone, besides the doctor who occasionally comes to visit?”

At some point during “Kitty’s” recovery, Jake has found the time to get her a wedding ring that fits her perfectly, because he slips it on her ring finger when she’s asleep. When she’s well enough to go home with him, she never asks any questions, which is a troubling indication that the writers of this movie think this “Kitty” character and the audience must be very stupid.

Jake takes her to a larger, modern all-white house that’s also isolated. It has a swimming pool but not much furniture and apparently no Internet access, because it’s never shown in the movie. Jack uses a cell phone but “Kitty” never does, and she never shows any interest in doing so, which is another indication of how dumb this character is.

It’s at the house that “Kitty” starts to ask some questions that she should’ve asked before she let a strange man drive her to this place in the middle of nowhere. Jake has a convenient answer for everything. But first, he’s concocted an elaborate story that this dimwit willingly believes.

He says his name is Jake Peters, and her name is Katja, but she has the nickname Kitty, and she’s a housewife. He tells her that he’s 54, she’s 35, and they’ve been married for six years. And he says that he’s never been married before, and they have no kids together, but they plan to start a family. He also tells her that she’s an only child and her parents died before he met her. “Kitty” never asks if she has any family members or friends who can verify her identity. She also never asks what her maiden name was or her date of birth.

Why is the house barely furnished? Jake tells her that they’re redecorating. Why is he sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor in another room instead of in their marital bed? He says he wants to give her enough space to recuperate. Why are there no photos of them in the house? Jake says they put almost all of their possessions in storage in the previous year, but everything was destroyed in a fire.

But the one question that “Kitty” doesn’t ask (and this is why the movie is so incredibly dumb) is: “Who are our friends and can they verify anything you’ve said?” Instead, she believes everything that Jake tells her about her identity and her past, even though he’s shown no proof that he’s telling the truth. There’s a caretaker who visits the property on occasion, but “Kitty” doesn’t ask him any questions until much later than anyone with common sense would have.

For most of the movie, “Kitty” seems to be in a daze, as Jake slowly gains her trust and eventually ends up sleeping in the same bed with her. It doesn’t help that Bafort is a very robotic actress, so in that respect, she doesn’t have much of a challenge when she has to play someone as empty-headed as “Kitty.” Except for a few scenes (such as when she breaks down and cries in the shower), “Kitty” doesn’t have much of a reaction to the severity of her amnesia.

Much of this slow-paced movie consists of her wandering around the house, getting in and out of the shower or swimming pool (apparently excuses for this movie to have full-frontal female nudity, but not any full-frontal male nudity), and passively believing everything Jake has told her. And the movie never explains this, but “Kitty” also happens to have a closet full of clothes that conveniently fit her perfectly when she and Jake first arrive at the house. Did Jake take her measurements while she was unconscious?

Jake seems to want to keep “Kitty” as isolated as possible, but when he realizes that she’s incredibly bored (as many viewers of this movie will be too), he suggests that they take a road trip, and she eagerly says yes. One of the places they visit is a beach, where Jake finally gets what he wanted all along, and they have sex, before heading to a hotel in Marrakesh.

While at the hotel, “Kitty” gets a major clue that Jake isn’t the wonderful person he portrays himself to be when she overhears the hotel manager talking to Jake about an unpaid bill. When she asks Jake about it, he says that the manager had mistaken him for someone else who had stayed at the hotel before but had skipped out on paying the bill. Of course, the gullible “Kitty” readily accepts this flimsy and not-very-believable explanation.

But anyone with any common sense can see the biggest mistake that Jake made from the beginning: He told “Kitty” that they were married for six years. Therefore, not only does he have to figure out a way for Kitty not to discover the truth from people that he knows, but he also has to explain to people who’ve known him for years why this mystery woman who suddenly showed up in his life is now supposed to be his wife of six years.

Jake lives in an isolated house, but his work as an independent architect requires him to have contact with people who can easily expose his lies. And then there are other people who do maintenance around the house, such as the caretaker. Did Jake think that they would never talk to Kitty and vice versa? Jake would basically have to keep “Kitty” hidden away from everyone he knows in order for his twisted lies to not be exposed. These are just some examples of how this movie’s screenplay is ill-conceived and badly written.

The good news is that, as Jake, actor Cvetkovic doesn’t give a one-note performance. The bad news is that it’s a two-note performance: creepy and creepier. There’s nothing attractive or sympathetic about Jake, which makes the ending of the movie the worst part of the story. There’s underlying misogyny in this story, which wants viewers to believe that a woman with amnesia can be easily manipulated into being someone’s glorified sex doll. Filming this movie in exotic locations doesn’t make it “art” and can’t cover up the fact that, at its core, “You Go to My Head” is exploitative trash.

First Run Features released “You Go to My Head” in New York City on February 14, 2020, and will release the movie in Los Angeles on February 21, 2020. UPDATE: First Run Features will release “You Go to My Head” on digital, VOD and DVD on February 9, 2021.

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