Review: ‘Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,’ starring Craig David Dowsett, Chris Cordell, Maria Taylor and Nikolai Leon

February 25, 2023

by Carla Hay

Craig David Dowsett in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” (Photo courtesy of Fathom Events)

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey”

Directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Hundred Acre Wood in England, the horror film “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” (which has warped versions of characters in A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” book) a features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After their human friend Christopher Robin “abandons” them in a remote forest area surrounding Hundred Acre Wood, the monstrous Winnie-the-Pooh and his sidekick Piglet go on a bloody rampage against people who go to Hundred Acre Wood. 

Culture Audience: “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” will appeal primarily to people who might be curious to see a horror version of “Winnie the Pooh,” but the movie is just a bloody and boring mess with no redeeming qualities.

Natasha Tosini, Chris Cordell and Craig David Dowsett in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” (Photo courtesy of Fathom Events)

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” is the very definition of bottom-of-the-barrel horror trash. It’s not scary, funny or interesting in any way. It’s just a bloodbath slasher flick that is deeply misogynistic. There could have been so many unique and clever ways to put a horror spin on A.A. Milne’s classic 1926 book “Winnie the Pooh,” but this garbage movie does nothing but show people getting murdered by two silent villains wearing cheap-looking animal masks.

Written and directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” is a perfect example of a ripoff that takes a famous brand name to entice people into watching a movie and offers nothing entertaining in return. The murder scenes look like a dull checklist. And it’s an understatement to say that all the movie’s characters are very stupid. The mindless conversations and bad acting are more painful to watch than some of the killing scenes.

The beginning of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” shows a series of illustrations resembling what you might see in a children’s book. A narrator explains that in a remote forest area surrounding Hundred Acre Wood, a bear named Winnie the Pooh (also known as Pooh), a pig named Piglet, a donkey named Eeyore and a human boy named Christopher Robin used to be the best of friends. But all that changed years later, when Christopher went away to attend college and “abandoned” the animals to fend for themselves.

Pooh decided that in order to survive, he and Piglet had to consume their dearest friends. And that meant “Eeyore was no more.” Pooh and Piglet “renounced their humanity and returned to their criminalistic roots, swearing never to talk again.” Christopher then became the No. 1 enemy of Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet.

Years later, when Christopher (played by Nikolai Leon) is in his 20s, he returns to Hundred Acre Wood with his fiancée Mary (played by Paula Coiz), who is skeptical that Christopher really had these animals as friends when he was a child. (Frederick Dallaway plays Christopher as a child, in a flashback.) Christopher has taken Mary to the forest to find his former pals and prove to Mary that they exist. And you know what that means: Someone is going to get killed.

In this case, it’s Mary who doesn’t make it out alive, while Christopher is held captive and tortured by Winnie the Pooh (played by Craig David Dowsett) and Piglet (played by Chris Cordell), who keep Christopher tied up in a filthy barn. But it wouldn’t be a trashy and sexist horror film if a bunch of nubile women didn’t gather in this remote area to be the obvious next victims of bloody murder, while they are filmed in various states of undress. And these dimwitted characters barely do anything to try to escape from the woods.

The leader of this gullible group is Maria (played by Maria Taylor), who says she has a stalker and she’s been having nightmares. So, of course, the first thing Maria wants to do when she has a stalker and nightmares is go to a remote wooded area, where there’s no place nearby to go for help and cell phone service might not be available. It’s practically a requirement for mindless horror movies.

Maria brings along her pals Jessica (played by Natasha Rose Mills), Alice (played by Amber Doig-Thorne), Lara (played by Natasha Tosini) and Zoe (played by Danielle Ronald). Later, another woman shows up named Tina (played by May Kelly), and her fate is easily predicted. All of these characters are written as very hollow and forgettable.

Lara is the big-breasted “sexpot” of the group, where most of her scenes show her in her underwear, in a bikini or topless. Movie director Frake-Waterfield makes the camera linger on her private parts in voyeuristic ways. It should come as no surprise that Lara is in a hot tub when she encounters Pooh and Piglet, who inflict torture and violence on anyone they see.

Eventually, Maria’s stalker—a decrepit creep named Logan (played by Richard D. Myers)—shows up too. He has three goons with him: Colt (played by Marcus Massey), Tucker (played by Simon Ellis) and John (played by Jase Rivers), who don’t escape the wrath of Pooh and Piglet. However, the violence that the men get in the movie isn’t nearly as sadistic as the violence that the women get. The men in the movie also don’t strip to their underwear or have any naked private parts on display in an exploitative manner.

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” is so moronic, it tries to make Pooh having honey dripping from his mouth look like it’s supposed to be terrifying. It’s not even amusing. The last scene of this time-wasting junk proves that “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” was just a heinous cash grab that was made so that the filmmakers could get some kind of twisted pleasure from doing a movie showing women getting violently murdered in worse ways than men.

Fathom Events released “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” in select U.S. cinemas, for a limited engagement, from February 15 to March 2, 2023.

Review: ‘Scrapper’ (2023), starring Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson

February 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell in “Scrapper” (Photo by Chris Harris)

“Scrapper” (2023)

Directed by Charlotte Regan

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Scrapper” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After her single mother dies of a terminal illness, a 12-year-old girl secretly lives by herself and finds her life upended again when her absentee father unexpectedly shows up to take care of her.

Culture Audience: “Scrapper” will primarily appeal to people interested in well-acted movies about estranged family members who must learn to live with each other.

Lola Campbell in “Scrapper” (Photo by Chris Harris)

There’s not much of a plot, and it’s easy to predict how the story is going to end, but “Scrapper” is charming because of the central performances by Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson as a feisty 12-year-old girl and her wayward father. It’s one of those movies where the main characters are a mixture of tough and tender. Ultimately, the movie’s message is about making the most of whatever family that you have.

Written and directed by Charlotte Regan, “Scrapper” has its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the grand jury prize for U.S. World Dramatic. The movie pokes fun at institutions—such as government-run schools and social welfare programs—as frequently inept in addressing the real needs of children. Mostly, “Scrapper” shows the main characters going on a personal and often uncomfortable journey to define what “family” means to them and having resiliency during difficult times.

In the beginning of “Scrapper” (which takes place in an unnamed city in England), these words are seen on screen: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The words are then crossed out and these words are written underneath: “I can raise myself, thanks.” The latter statement is the attitude of 12-year-old Georgie (played by Campbell), who has been secretly living by herself in a council flat, ever since her single mother Vicky (played by Olivia Brady, shown in flashbacks) died of a terminal illness. Georgie’s father has not been involved in raising her, and he can’t be located. The movie doesn’t specify how long Georgie has been living by herself, but it looks like it’s been a few months.

Georgie still goes to school, but she’s been able to deceive school officials and child welfare services by pretending to live with an uncle (who doesn’t exist) named Winston Churchill after her mother’s death. It’s a knock at adult authorities that they don’t think it’s unusual for Georgie to have an uncle named after a former U.K. prime minister. How has Georgie been able to fool all of these adults?

Georgie is acquainted with a young man named Josh (played by Joshua Frater-Loughlin), who is a cashier at a local convenience store. She asks Josh to record different statements on her phone that could be answers in response to questions asked by any adults who call to check in on Georgie. The statements include “Georgie is doing great at school, thanks” and “We are doing fine, thank you.” Georgie pretends that Josh’s voice is the voice of her non-existent Uncle Winston, and she plays these recorded statements whenever any of these adults call. So far, this scheme has worked.

The adult authorities in “Scrapper” are depicted as soulless bureaucrats who don’t really care about the children they are supposed to be looking after in a responsible way. At Georgie’s school, a teacher named Mr. Barrowclough (played by Cary Crankson) tells Georgie how he thinks she should cope with her mother’s death, by saying that Georgie should only take a morning off from school, not an entire day. The two child welfare officials—Sian (played by Jessica Fostekew) and Youseff (played by Asheq Akhtar)—who are in charge of checking in on Georgie only do so by phone and don’t care about visiting Georgie in her home.

Georgie, who is tomboyish and sassy, likes to think of herself as being strong and independent. She makes money by stealing bikes and selling them to a young woman named Zeph (played by Ambreen Razia), whose “bike shop” is really the back of Zeph’s truck. In the beginning of the movie, the only person who knows Georgie’s secret is her best friend Ali (played by Alin Uzun), who is about the same age as Georgie. He is skeptical about how long Georgie can keep up her charade, but he keeps her secret.

Throughout the movie, various local kids who are around Georgie’s age are shown making comments to the camera to give their thoughts on Georgie. These children do not have a good opinion of Georgie, whom they think of as weird and a troublemaker. A group of “mean girls,” led by a brat named Layla (played by Freya Bell), say derogatory things about Georgie. Triplet brothers Kunle (played by Ayokunle Oyesanwo), Bami (played by Ayobami Oyesabwo) and Luwa (played by Ayooluwa Oyesanwo) are mostly in the movie as comic relief, since they often bicker and disagree with each other.

One day, Georgie is at home and is startled to see a young man with bleach blonde hair climbing over the fence in the backyard. His name is Jason (played by Dickinson), and he’s no ordinary intruder. Jason, as he tells a shocked Georgie, is Georgie’s father. It’s the first time that Jason and Georgie have met. Jason, who is also English, explains that he had been living in Spain with some male friends, but he came back to England after he heard that Vicky died.

Georgie is hostile and rude to Jason, whom she sees as an interloper who has no business being in her life. Georgie grew up thinking that Jason had abandoned her and Vicky. Jason tells his side of the story, which is very different from the story that Vicky told Georgie. “Your mum never wanted me around,” Jason tells Georgie.

With nowhere else to live, Jason tells Georgie that he will be living with her at this flat, whether she likes it or not. He says if she doesn’t let him live there, he will report her to the child welfare authorities. And so begins the uneasy and sometimes volatile way that Georgie and Jason get to know each other.

One of the first things that Georgie does when she meets Jason is scold him for not sending any child support money. “We’re not exactly rolling in it,” Georgie says. Jason replies that he’s not exactly “rolling in it” either. Georgie tries to get rid of Jason in various ways, but these tactics don’t work. During one of their frequent arguments, Jason tells Georgie: “Remember, I can tell the socials [social workers] whenever I want, so drop the attitude.”

Over time, Georgie finds out that she and Jason are a lot more alike than she would care to admit. They are both stubborn and rebellious. Georgie also gets a different perspective of why Jason was not in her life up until this point. It’s her first experience in understanding how complicated adult relationships can be. She also has to rethink her lifelong perception of Jason as being the “deadbeat dad” who didn’t care about her.

“Scrapper” would not work as well as it does if it weren’t for the stellar performances of Campbell and Dickinson, who make this father-daughter duo entirely believable. “Scrapper” has a tone of being sarcastic and sweet, which is a combination that would have made this movie look very uneven, but Regan’s sharp writing and direction keep this combination on a steady track that never feels overly contrived or forced. “Scrapper” is by no means a profound or groundbreaking film, but it entertains in all of the intended ways and is a movie that most viewers won’t forget.

UPDATE: Kino Lorber will release “Scrapper” in New York City on August 25, 2023. Picturehouse Entertainment will release “Scrapper” in the United Kingdom and Ireland on August 25, 2023.

Review: ‘She Is Love,’ starring Haley Bennett and Sam Riley

February 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sam Riley and Haley Bennett in “She Is Love” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“She Is Love”

Directed by Jamie Adams

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in England, the dramatic film “She Is Love” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two former spouses, who haven’t seen or spoken to each other in 10 years, have an awkward reunion when she checks into the inn where he lives with his current girlfriend, who owns the inn. 

Culture Audience: “She Is Love” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching aimless movies that have no real plot and mainly show people looking and acting uncomfortable with each other.

Marisa Abela in “She Is Love” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

Everything about the rambling drama “She Is Love” looks like an improvisational sketch that was dragged into an unnecessary and tedious movie. The cast members are talented, but the characters they play are empty and annoying. The movie’s fake-looking ending looks like a lazy cop-out that doesn’t ring true. It’s one of many misguided aspects of this dreadfully dull film.

Written and directed by Jamie Adams, “She Is Love” had its world premiere at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival. The movie takes place in an unnamed city in England, primarily at one location: a bed-and-breakfast inn. In the beginning of the movie, it’s a Friday, and a restless woman named Patricia (played by Haley Bennett), who also goes by the name Pat, has arrived at the inn because her boyfriend Taylor (voiced by Jay Jippet) has booked a room for her at the inn.

Patricia is a creator of TV shows, and she travels a lot for her job. It’s vaguely explained that she’s at the inn on some sort of vacation where she wants to spend some time alone. The movie’s story begins on a Friday and ends on a Sunday. By the end of this weekend, Patricia will not only have the opposite of a vacation of solitude, she’s also so “in your face” irritating, viewers of “She Is Love” will want to Patricia to go away.

The first thing that Patricia does when she checks into her room is complain. She mutters to herself, “This room is ugly.” It doesn’t take long before her so-called restful vacation gets interrupted by loud music coming from another room. Patricia goes to the source of the noise and sees a musician named Idris (played by Sam Riley) playing music on DJ equipment, as if he’s in a nightclub. Idris and Patricia look at each other in shock. She’s so in shock, she quickly walks out of the room.

Idris follows her and says, “I’m sorry about the noise. I didn’t know anyone was here.” Patricia says to him, “What are you doing here?” Idris replies, “I kind of live here. I can’t believe it. The last I heard, you were living in America.” It’s soon revealed how Patricia and Idris know each other: They used to be married to each other, they got divorced, and they haven’t seen or spoken to each other in about 10 years.

Patricia insists that she’s at this inn purely as a coincidence, because her boyfriend booked the room at the inn for her. More awkwardness ensues because the person who owns the inn and lives there too is Idris’ current girlfriend Louise (played by Marisa Abela), a perky aspiring actress who’s about 15 years younger than 39-year-old Idris. Quicker than you can say “formulaic sitcom idea,” Louise suddenly comes home to tell Idris the good news that she got a role that she really wanted. Idris nervously steers Louise outside and doesn’t want her to go inside until he tells her the news that his ex-wife unexpectedly showed up and is staying at the inn.

Idris tells Louise it’s a bizarre coincidence that Patricia is a guest at the inn, and he assures Louise that nothing is going to happen between him and Patricia. And what a coincidence: Louise has to go out of town for a few days because of this new acting job. The rest of the movie shows what happens when Patricia and Idris spend a lot of time alone together, get drunk, and act like people who have too much time on their hands but have nothing meaningful to say for most of that time. It’s all just so boring to watch.

Bennett and Riley seem to be attempting to make Patricia and Idris believable as an ex-couple with unresolved feelings for each other. The problem is that it never looks genuine that these two were ever in love. Anything that’s supposed to pass for “sexual tension” between Patricia and Idris just come across as forced. And to make matters worse, insufferable Patricia is so insulting to Idris, it’s even harder to believe that Idris could possibly be falling back in love with her.

In one of their early “reunion” conversations, Idris (who performs in a semi-famous rock band) tells Patricia that he’s still a musician. Patricia rudely says, “So, you’re doing the same thing. I’m a bit disappointed.” It’s quite the display of disrespectful and condescending judgment from someone who has no say in how Idris should lead his life and what should make him happy.

Later, when Idris and Patricia have a drunken argument, she says to him: “You can’t deal with anyone broken. That’s why you go for Louise.” Irdrs replies, “You break everything you touch!” And then, Patricia shows how cruel she can be when she says to Idris: “The only good thing about you is your dad. And he’s dead.”

“She Is Love” is a misnomer, because Patricia is not a very loving or lovable person. The movie becomes a slog of Patricia and Idris lurching from drunken activity to drunken activity, all while having witless conversations. They play tennis while intoxicated. They put on face powder, wear white clothes, and run around the inn, as they pretend that they are ghosts.

And (cliché alert), at one point, Idris brings out his acoustic guitar and plays a drippy love song about you-know-who. And through it all, Idris and Patricia continue to argue. It’s as if Patricia and Idris are trying to convince themselves that maybe they’re smart and interesting, but the results prove that they are just the opposite.

Another thing that looks phony about this movie is that for an inn of this size (it looks like there are at about six to eight bedrooms), no one seems to be taking care of this property except Louise and Idris. There are no signs of any maids, caretakers, maintenance workers or cooks. Even if business is slow, it’s hard to believe that Louise and Idris are doing all the physical upkeep of this property all by themselves.

Louise is preoccupied with auditions, while Idris just seems to lounge around the inn and play music when he’s in between gigs. The inn has one quasi-receptionist named Kate (played by Rosa Robson), who walks around with a clipboard and doesn’t seem to do much. Kate certainly isn’t scrubbing toilets, cleaning up the yard, or fixing broken equipment.

It’s an example of how the filmmakers of “She Is Love” couldn’t adequately make a cinematic experience from this very poorly conceived story that has a virtually non-existent plot. At best, “She Is Love” is a story that should have been a very short sketch. It’s too bad that the filmmakers decided to pad it with too much shallow filler and make it into a very disappointing 82-minute movie.

Brainstorm Media released “She Is Love” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 3, 2023.

Review: ‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical,’ starring Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough and Emma Thompson

January 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emma Thompson and Alisha Weir as Matilda in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” (Photo by Dan Smith/Netflix)

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” 

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, this movie version of the Olivier-winning musical “Matilda the Musical” (which is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 “Matilda” children’s book) features a predominantly white group of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A highly intelligent, book-loving 5-year-old girl with neglectful parents is sent to a private school, where a caring English teacher becomes her mentor, and the school’s cruel headmistress becomes the girl’s enemy.

Culture Audience: In addition to appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of Dahl and previous “Matilda” adaptations, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a family-friendly musical with themes of good versus evil and taking a stand against bullying.

Lashana Lynch and Alisha Weir in in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” takes the best aspects of the stage production and gives them a vibrant, cinematic version that delivers drama and comedy veering on the cartoonish. It’s a mixture of 1980s gaudiness and traditional British theater that mostly works well, but some viewers will be put off by some of the shrill aspects of this musical. Lashana Lynch’s performance is a delightful standout, for her portrayal of compassionate schoolteacher Miss Honey, one of the movie’s few characters with any real complexity and depth.

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is directed by Matthew Warchus, who won an Olivier Award in 2012, for the West End musical production of “Matilda,” which is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 book of the same name. Warchus also received a Tony nomination for directing the Broadway musical version of “Matilda.” The first movie version of “Matilda” is a 1996 American (non-musical) comedy, directed by Danny DeVito (who also co-starred in the movie) and starring Mara Wilson in the title role. The songs from the “Matilda” stage musical (with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin) are also in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

The world of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is set in the 1980s, and it’s filmed like a garish 1980s sitcom, when viewers are first introduced to the selfish low-lifes who will become Matilda’s parents. The movie’s opening scene takes place at a hospital maternity ward in an unnamed city in England. (The song “Miracle” is performed in this scene.)

Mr. Wormwood (played by Stephen Graham) is a ruffian who works as a used-car salesman and welder involved in shady business practices. Mrs. Wormwood (played by Andrea Riseborough) is an egomaniacal makeup artist whose only real passions are ballroom dancing and spending money on herself. Both spouses are not equipped to be good parents. But here they are in the maternity ward, as Mrs. Wormwood is giving birth to what these sleazy spouses hope will be a son.

When Matilda is born, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood’s negative attitude about being parents gets even worse because this child is a girl, not the boy they wanted. Throughout Matilda’s young life, her parents refer to her using male pronouns, as if they can’t accept Matilda’s gender. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are neglectful parents who give Matilda the basics (food and shelter) but not love or proper guidance.

At 5 years old, Matilda (played by Alisha Weir) has learned to be self-sufficient. Matilda also has a mischievous side to her, such as a scene where she puts super glue in her father’s hat, which gets stuck to his head. She has become a voracious reader with the type of intelligence that makes her child prodigy in any subject and could easily put her on the level of genius. Influenced by many of the novels she has read, Matilda has a vivid imagination and can make up elaborate stories.

Matilda escapes from her unhappy home life by regularly spending time with Mrs. Phelps (played by Shindhu Vee), a librarian who owns and operates a bookmobile. In this movie, Mrs. Phelps is unfortunately a very underdeveloped character. Viewers will find out very little about Mrs. Phelps. The main purpose for Mrs. Phelps is for her to become fascinated when Matilda tells her a story (in stops and starts) about an escapologist (played by Carl Spencer) and an acrobat (played by Lauren Alexandra), who work at a circus, fall in love with each other, and experience a tragedy. This story comes to life in various scenes in the movie.

One day, Miss Honey and a school official colleague, who both work at the prestigious Crunchem Hall school, visit the Wormwood household because there is concern for Matilda’s welfare. Matilda has been homeschooled up until this point. Miss Honey tactfully asks Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood if Matilda can go to a traditional school so that she can be around other children. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood say yes, not because it will benefit Matilda, but because they will no longer have to be responsible for educating her, and she will be spending less time at home.

Matilda quickly makes a friend at the school named Lavender (played by Rei Yamauchi Fulker), one of the schoolkid characters in this movie that could have used better character development. Other students who are featured in prominent speaking roles (but very little is revealed about them) are cheeky Eric (played by Andrei Shen), nervous Nigel (played by Ashton Robertson) and eager-to-please Bruce Bogtrotter (played Charlie Hodson-Prior), who gets a big moment in a famously uncomfortable scene involving chocolate cake. Matilda becomes the target of a student bully named Hortensia (played by Meesha Garbett), who is a stereotypical “mean girl.”

But the biggest bully at the school is headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (played by Emma Thompson, wearing hag-like makeup), who is very abusive (physically and verbally), and despises children so much, she often calls them “maggots.” The sign in front of Agatha’s office even says, “Maggots May Not Enter.” Everyone at the school is afraid of Agatha, except for Matilda. As Bruce comments soon after Matilda arrives at Crunchem Hall: “This isn’t a school. It’s a prison.”

Matilda soon stands out for having more academic knowledge than the teachers. Miss Honey is so impressed with Matilda, she tells Agatha that Matilda should be given the curriculum of someone who’s at least 11 years old. A jealous Agatha nixes the idea because she says that Matilda doesn’t deserve special treatment. Matilda soon becomes the focus of Agatha’s rage when Matilda shows that she’s not easily intimidated by this nasty school leader. Agatha is also prejudiced against Matilda because Agatha thinks Matilda’s parents are “gangsters, not intellectuals.”

The rest of the movie plays out exactly like you think it will, even for people who don’t know anything the the “Matilda” story. Thompson’s depiction of Agatha is a very campy, non-stop performance of “fire and brimstone” malevolence. The hairstyling, makeup and costume design are top-notch in in creating this character, and Thompson is certainly very talented, but it’s an entirely one-note portrayal that would have been more interesting if the filmmakers made Agatha’s personality a little less predictable and more nuanced.

The real heart of the story (and the best part of the movie) is the beautiful friendship that develops between Matilda and Miss Honey. Even though Matilda is wise beyond her years, she is still a child who needs positive and helpful adult guidance. Matilda and Miss Honey are kindred spirits who share an avid appreciation of books and a strong sense of personal ethics that includes standing up for people who are being treated unfairly.

In the role of Matilda, Weir makes an impressive feature-film debut as the feisty and resilient Matilda, who manages to charm, even when she’s being a pouty brat. Some of the pacing of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” tends to drag in the middle of the movie. However, the last third of the film is by far the best section and makes up for any of the movie’s flaws. Lynch gives an emotionally stunning version of “My Home,” while Weir’s standout musical solo moment is with “Quiet.” And the “Revolting Children” song-and-dance sequence is an absolute, show-stopping high point.

Unfortunately, other than Matilda and Miss Honey, the characters in this movie are rather two-dimensional. The filmmakers of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” missed an opportunity to create meaningful backstories and more compelling personalities for some of these other characters. The villains in the movie are complete caricatures and therefore entirely formulaic.

The movie also could have taken more time to explore the interpersonal relationships that Matilda has with her fellow students, because what is shown in the movie all looks very rushed and superficial. However, this is a musical that succeeds in most areas and stays true to the overall spirit of the “Matilda” book. “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is not a masterpiece, but it’s entertaining enough to appeal to many generations and cultures.

Netflix released “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” in select U.S. cinemas on December 9, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on December 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Living’ (2022), starring Bill Nighy

December 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aimee Lou Wood (far left) and Bill Nighy in “Living” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Number 9 Films/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Living” (2022)

Directed by Oliver Hermanus

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1959 in England, the dramatic film “Living” (a remake of the 1953 Japanese film “Ikiru”) features an all-white characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A terminally ill man has an epiphany and re-evaluates what he wants to do with his life.

Culture Audience: “Living” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of “Irkiru” and people who are interested in watching thoughtful movies about changing one’s own life while preparing for death.

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Alex Sharp, Hubert Burton, Adrian Rawlins and Oliver Chris in “Living” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Number 9 Films/Sony Pictures Classics)

If you had only weeks to live, what would you do? The dramatic film “Living” poses that question, and has a protagonist who answers it. Bill Nighy gives a nuanced performance in this noteworthy British remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic “Ikiru.” The deliberate pacing and contemplative nature of “Living” can be recommended to people who want to see a movie about someone facing mortality. “Living” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and

Directed by Oliver Hermanus and written by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Living” (which takes place in 1959 in an unnamed part of England) begins with the introduction to the four businessman co-workers before they go on a train together to their monotonous office job for a company whose core business is never fully explained. Much of the movie contrasts the rigid, “button-down” environment of this office job and the personal evolution of the movie’s protagonist who tries to break out of the self-imposed rut that he’s been living in for many years.

The movie’s central character is a widower named Mr. Williams (played by Nighy), whose first name is never mentioned. It’s the movie’s way of still giving an air of formality to this character. Through conversations that the four commuter businessmen have in the movie, it’s made clear that Mr. Williams is a high-ranking executive at the company, and he is close to retiring. Mr. Williams is respected but also feared.

The four businessmen who work at the company are newcomer Peter Wakeling (played by Alex Sharp), who is in his 20s and eager to impress his co-workers; Mr. Hart (played by Oliver Chris), who is fairly quiet; Mr. Rusbridger (played by Hubert Burton), who is helpful to Peter; and Mr. Middleton (played by Adrian Rawlins), who is the apparent successor to Mr. Williams after Mr. Williams retires. Peter, Mr. Hart and Mr. Rusbridger are all in the late 20s to early 30s. Mr. Middleton is in his 60s.

The movie’s opening scene shows Peter on a train platform his first day on the job, as Mr. Middleton introduces Peter to Mr. Hart and Mr. Rusbridger. Peter tells an innocuous joke to make small talk. No one in the group laughs at the joke. Mr. Rusbridger advises Peter: “This time of the morning, it’s kind of a rule: Not too much fun and laughter, kind of like church.”

This serious attitude is even more evident in the office environment, where people speak in hushed tones and seem very conscious of following bureaucratic rules. Although the desks in the office are placed closed together, these co-workers seem emotionally distant from each other. The impression they give is that they have to be completely focused on work, and there’s no room and no tolerance for anyone to bring too much of their personal lives (or personalities) to the workplace.

Even if it’s never said out loud, it becomes obvious from Mr. Williams’ leadership style that he was responsible for creating this stuffy culture at this particular office. One day, during a dull meeting in a conference room, Mr. Williams tells his staff that he has to leave early for the day (at about 3:20 p.m.), and he says that Mr. Middleton can be in charge during Mr. Williams’ absence. As soon as the employees hear that Mr. Williams will be leaving early, the relief is noticeable on their faces, as if they know that when he’s gone, they can relax a little in the office.

The appointment that Mr. Williams has to go to is a visit with his physician Dr, Matthews (played by Jonathan Keeble). The doctor does not have good news to tell Mr. Williams. Tests results have come back that are “pretty conclusive,” says the doctor. Although the full details aren’t revealed until later, Mr. Williams has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He has also been told that he only has six to eight months to live. This isn’t spoiler information, since this part of the story is part of the marketing for “Living.”

Mr. Williams keeps this information a secret from almost everyone he knows, including his adult son Michael (played by Barney Fishwick), Michael’s wife Fiona (played by Patsy Ferran) and Mr. Williams’ business colleagues. Michael and Fiona do not have a warm relationship with Mr. Williams. When these two spouses visit him, they (especially Fiona) seem to be more concerned about what kind of inheritance money they can get from Mr. Williams than his general well-being.

The implication is that for much of his life, Mr. Williams has been a cold and judgmental person who is set in his ways. And now that he is faced with the harsh reality of his imminent and painful death, he is seeing the consequences of not developing enough meaningful emotional connections. Michael, his closest living relative, barely tolerates him, which indicates that years of resentment (mostly unspoken) have built up between father and son.

Mr. Williams finds an unexpected bright spot soon after finding out the dark and devastating news about his terminal illness: A perky and talkative woman in her 20s named Margaret Harris (played by Aimee Lou Wood) is someone who used to work as a secretary in the same office as Mr. Williams. Shortly after the movie begins, it’s shown that Margaret has already given notice that she’s quitting to take a job as an assistant manager at a local restaurant called Four Corners.

One day, Mr. Williams invites Margaret to lunch, and they have a polite conversation where he tells her that he can write a letter of recommendation for her in whatever job she wants to have. Over time, after Margaret starts working at Four Corners, he makes a point of going there by himself so that he can talk to her because he’s lonely. They go on a few platonic dates, but Margaret isn’t really sure if Mr. Williams wants more than a friendship when he quickly becomes emotionally attached to her.

Meanwhile, Mr. Williams meets a bon vivant type named Sutherland (played by Tom Burke), who encourages Mr. Williams to loosen up and try things that Mr. Williams has never done before. If “Living” were a formulaic Hollywood movie, this would be the part of the story where Mr. Williams turns into a party animal or goes on wacky adventures, as part of checking off things to do on his “bucket list.” However, the quiet beauty of “Living” is that it doesn’t have those types of cheap gimmicks.

Instead, “Living” is more about the gradual discovery that Mr. Williams has about himself and understanding that even with a limited amount of time he has left to live, it’s never to too late to change. Throughout the movie, there are several flashback clips of Mr. Williams in his childhood. These flashbacks are artfully shown in a “vintage film footage” format. Mr. Williams’ childhood memories inspire the transformation that he has in this story.

“Living” is a movie that will frustrate or bore some viewers who want to see a flashier film with a lot of melodrama. Audiences should know before seeing this film that it’s an introspective character study rather than a story with major plot twists or surprises. Nighy’s performance is understated yet powerful in the way he portrays someone who chooses to suffer in silence but who makes a big statement toward the end of his life. Mostly, the movie does an admirable job of conveying the message behind the title: How someone lives is much more important than how someone dies.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Living” in select U.S. cinemas on December 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Railway Children,’ starring Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith, John Bradley and Tom Courtenay

November 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zac Cudby, Beau Gadsdon, Austin Haynes, Eden Hamilton and Kenneth “KJ” Aikens in “Railway Children” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Railway Children”

Directed by Morgan Matthews

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1944, mainly in West Yorkshire, England, the dramatic film “Railway Children” features a predominantly white cast of characters (and a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During World War II, four British children befriend and help a young African American soldier, who has deserted the U.S. Army and has gone into hiding. 

Culture Audience: “Railway Children” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching corny and sometimes unrealistic dramas that take place during World War II.

Pictured clockwise, from bottom left: Eden Hamilton, Austin Haynes, Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay, Jenny Agutter, Beau Gadsdon and Zac Cudby in “Railway Children” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

Even though the sappy drama “Railway Children” is told from the perspectives of children during World War II, it’s still no excuse for how the movie mishandles issues such as racism and military desertion. The movie’s last 15 minutes are atrociously mushy. Mostly, “Railway Children” is just lackluster and dull, until the last third of the film, where a plot development is crammed in to create a false sense of suspense. This plot development ends up falling very flat because of the way it’s unrealistically resolved.

Directed by Morgan Matthews, “Railway Children” takes place in 1944, mostly in West Yorkshire, England. Daniel Brocklehurst and Jemma Rodgers co-wrote the maudlin “Railway Children” screenplay. If people don’t know anything about the movie before seeing it, the movie’s title might give the impression it’s about vagabond kids who travel by railway. The movie’s actually not about that at all. It’s a sequel to the 1970 film “The Railway Children,” which is based on Edith Nesbit’s 1905 novel. “The Railway Children” was remade into a TV-movie released in 2000.

The children who are the central characters in “Railway Children” (formerly titled “The Railway Children Return”) actually aren’t homeless. Transportation by train is only a significant part of the movie’s plot in the beginning and near the end of the film. “Railway Children” is about three siblings whose mother has made them temporarily relocate from Manchester, England, to West Yorkshire, because a big city like Manchester is more likely to be bombed during the war. Their single mother, who is a nurse, has decided to live and work in Liverpool, England, until it’s safe for her to be reunited with her evacuated kids.

The opening scene of “Railway Children” shows the children’s mother, Angela Watts (played by Jessica Baglow), saying a tearful goodbye to her three kids at the train station in Manchester. She will not be going with them on the train. Eldest child Lily Watts (played by Beau Gadsdon) is about 14 or 15 years old. Middle child Pattie Watts (played by Eden Hamilton) is about 10 or 11 years old. Youngest child Ted Watts (played by Zac Cudby) is about 6 or 7 years old.

Angela tells Lily that because Lily is the eldest child, “You’re the parent now.” Pattie is wearing a dress, and she complains that she doesn’t like wearing dresses. After the children board the train, they meet some other unaccompanied children who have been sent away by their parents for the same reason as the Watts kids. The ticket taker on the train is aware that there are about 20 of these evacuated kids on the train.

During this trip, the kids are mostly obedient but get restless when they are told that the train won’t stop just anywhere for the passengers to use a restroom. The ticket taker gruffly tells Lily that everyone will have to wait until the train gets to the next train station, which has restrooms for people to use. Instead of waiting for that to happen, Lily secretly pulls the train’s emergency brake, forcing the train to stop.

The children then use this interruption to go in a field and relieve themselves. The train conductor suspects Lily pulled the emergency brake and accuses her privately, but she dares him to prove that she pulled the brake. Of course, he can’t prove it.

The main purpose of this scene is to establish early in the movie that Lily is a strong-willed, independent thinker who will break the rules if she thinks it’s for a good reason. Lily demonstrates this personality trait many times throughout the movie, especially when she makes a decision that could get her in trouble with the law. Lily also doesn’t abide by sexist gender roles where girls are expected to be weaker than boys.

When the evacuated kids on the train arrive at West Yorkshire, they are greeted by St. Mark’s School headmistress Annie Clark (played by Sheridan Smith) and Annie’s mother Roberta “Bobbie” Waterbury (played by Jenny Agutter), who live together and are both very welcoming to the kids. Agutter reprises her role as Bobbie, which she played in 1970’s “The Railway Children,” which was about three child siblings in 1905 who try to find out why their father disappeared. In the 2000 TV-movie version of “The Railway Children,” Agutter played the children’s mother.

In the “Railway Children” sequel, various families in the area have gathered at the school to meet the evacuated children and choose which ones they will take into their homes as foster kids. The Watts children don’t want to be separated, but that means no foster family wants to take all three of the Watts siblings together. Bobbie feels a great deal of sympathy for the Watts siblings, because they remind her of herself and her two siblings when she was a child, so she convinces a reluctant Annie to take the Watts siblings into their home.

Annie has an amiable and talkative son named Thomas Clark (played by Austin Haynes), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. Instead of being irritated that he has to share his living space with three kids he doesn’t know, Thomas adapts quickly and seems happy to have the company of kids close to his age. Thomas and the Watts siblings become fast friends and spend most of the movie hanging out together.

Thomas’ father is away, fighting in the war. Lily says that her father is doing the same thing. (As soon as she says that, it’s obvious she’s lying.) An occasional visitor to the household is Annie’s uncle Walter (played by Tom Courtenay), who lives in London and works as a political liaison for the Allies. Walter is a compassionate and wise person, but this character is very underdeveloped in the movie.

Another supporting character who is fairly one-dimensional is Richard (played by John Bradley), the manager of the local train station. Richard acts like a know-it-all and is somewhat impatient with kids. However, Richard likes Thomas enough to show Thomas the surveillance audio equipment that Richard keeps in the train station. Richard tells Thomas that he likes to eavesdrop on unsuspecting people to find out if anyone in town is a traitorous spy.

Unfortunately, the movie’s pace slows down considerably, as it lumbers along in showing how the Watts children have somewhat of a hard time adjusting to their new environment outside of their new household. At school, the Watts siblings are treated like outsiders by the classmates, except for Thomas. Four school bullies, led by a brat named Georgie Duckworth (played by Joseph Richards), try to attack Ted, Pattie and Thomas, but Lily sneaks up behind the bullies and is able to fight them off and scare them away.

“Railway Children” has repetitive scenes of Lily, Ted, Pattie and Thomas playing in an open field area that has some abandoned train cars. They uses these cars as “secret hideouts” when playing games with each other. Lily, Ted and Pattie are happy that they have a new friend in Thomas, but the Watts siblings miss their mother tremendously. Unfortunately, the movie depicts these emotions in a superficial way, as other issues get more importance in the story.

Life in the foster home is fairly tranquil, with occasional disruptions if the four kids are messy or don’t immediately do something that an adult tells them to do. One day, Annie gets a letter from the military with some upsetting news that she wants to keep a secret from the children. The information in the letter is eventually revealed, but the movie drags it out in a weak attempt to have some suspense.

About halfway through “Railway Children,” Lily, Pattie and Thomas make a very surprising discovery in their hideout area. A teenage American soldier named Abraham “Abe” McCarthy (played by Kenneth “KJ” Aikens) is hiding in one of the abandoned train cars. He has a gash injury on one of his legs. Abe tells the kids that he’s 18 years old and that he’s hiding because he’s on a secret mission for the U.S. Army.

Abe asks the children to bring him bandages and begs the kids not to tell anyone that he is there. Of course, all this secrecy means that Abe is probably lying. Eventually, the children find out the truth: Abe has gone absent without leave (AWOL) from the U.S. Army, which has sent the military police and other officials to look for Abe in West Yorkshire. Abe being a military deserter is not the only thing that Abe has lied about, and his other lie is very obvious to figure out.

Several U.S. Army soldiers are temporarily stationed in the area. The movie shows in heavy-handed ways that Abe has additional paranoia about being caught because he’s an African American and is expected to get harsher punishment than if he were white. More than one scene in the movie depicts white American soldiers harassing the African American soldiers, such as when a white American soldier berates and shoves an off-duty African American soldier for talking to a white British woman.

Abe wants to find a way to get on the next train out of town. Lily suggests that Abe get on the train going to Liverpool, where she says Abe can find her nurse mother to give him treatment. This naïve plan is taken very seriously in the movie, which doesn’t even show Lily giving Abe enough information to find her mother in a fairly big city like Liverpool. Meanwhile, Thomas gets very nervous about keeping Abe a secret, so Thomas starts to disagree with Lily about keeping this secret.

“Railway Children” is one of those movies where the kids have a secret plan to help someone and try to outsmart the adults in hatching this plan. Some viewers might find it quaint and charming how it’s all presented in the movie. However, it just comes across as cloying and pandering to people who want a formulaic and lazy movie that doesn’t take any risks and doesn’t try to deal with Abe’s issues in a realistic way.

For example, “Railway Children” makes it look like only the white Americans are racist, when the reality is that white supremacist racism can be anywhere, regardless of the nation. In the movie, Abe says he wants to leave the U.S. Army because of the racism he experiences in the Army. However, “Railway Children” doesn’t adequately address the reality that even if Abe made it back to the United States without getting punished by the U.S. Army, he would still be going back to a nation where racial segragation and other racist practices were legal. Abe talks a little bit about his family, but the British kids helping him don’t seem too interested in knowing what kind of life Abe would be going back home to in America.

All of those societal facts are shoved aside or buried because “Railway Children” wants to be an overly sweet movie about some kind-hearted kids who help a runaway teenager of a different race and nationality. There’s nothing wrong with children being depicted as naïve, but it’s wrong to depict the adults in this story acting like ignorant kids too, especially during a war that was mainly about freeing people from the hatefully bigoted tryanny of Nazi Germany. It doesn’t help that the acting performances in the movie are not very impressive, especially from Aikens, who delivers his lines of dialogue in an awkward and stiff manner.

“Railway Children” missed an opportunity to be a valuable lesson about World War II history and dealing with the harsh realities of war and bigotry. Instead, after a long, boring stretch where not much happens in the first two-thirds of the movie, the last third of “Railway Children” turns into a very clumsily staged runaway caper where everything is dumbed-down in service of being an absurdly sentimental story. Ultimately, “Railway Children” is one in a long list of movie sequels that are far inferior to the movies that spawned the sequels.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Railway Children” in U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on December 6, 2022. “Railway Children” was released in the United Kingdom on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Enys Men,’ starring Mary Woodvine

October 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mary Woodvine in “Enys Men” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Enys Men”

Directed by Mark Jenkin

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1973, off the coast of Cornwall, England, the horror movie “Enys Men” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A volunteer researcher goes through mysterious rituals while studying a group of wildflowers, as nightmarish visions from the past seem to haunt her.

Culture Audience: “Enys Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching artsy and enigmatic horror movies where the movie’s plot is a mystery for viewers to solve.

Mary Woodvine in “Enys Men” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Steeped in 1970s cinema nostalgia, “Enys Men” is a unique horror movie that’s presented as a puzzle for viewers to figure out on their own. People who want a straightforward horror story will be disappointed. Viewers who like mysteries will be challenged. It’s a movie that looks deceptively disjointed, but it actually requires complete attention from viewers, in order for the clues to tie everything together as the story goes along.

Written and directed by Mark Jenkin, “Enys Men’ reunites Jenkin with Mary Woodvine and Edward Rowe, who also co-starred in Jenkin’s BAFTA-winning 2019 drama “Bait.” In “Bait,” Rowe played the role of the movie’s protagonist. In “Enys Men,” Woodvine is the movie’s central character. “Enys Men” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France and its North American premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City.

Jenkin is also the cinematographer and editor of “Enys Men.” He used 16mm film to make the movie look like it was actually filmed in 1973. In this strange story, where all of the characters do not have names, Woodvine plays a character listed in the end credits as The Volunteer. She is woman in her 50s, living by herself in a remote cottage located off of the coast of Cornwall, England.

The movie, which takes place from April to May 1973, shows that The Volunteer has a journal, where she’s been keeping a daily record of what she is there to observe. In each journal entry, she notes the outdoor temperature, which ranges from 14.2 to 14.5 degrees Celsius, which is about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. However, what she’s really observing is a group of wildflowers growing on a cliffside near the cottage.

Up until a certain point in the movie, her journal entries note “No change in temperature” next to each listed temperature, even though the temperature does slightly change during the course of the month. The Volunteer also wears the same clothes every day: a red wind jacket, a beige sweater, blue jeans and hiking shoes. She usually walks on the same path every day to get to the flowers on the cliffs.

Every day, she also goes through a ritual of dropping a rock into a nearby well. The water in the well can be heard when the rock splashes into it. The Volunteer has a CB radio, which she uses to communicate with unnamed people and where she also receives messages. early on in the movie, The Volunteer gets a message from a man on the radio. He tells her that he’ll be there before the end of the week. She gives a small smile in response.

Throughout “Enys Men,” there are visions of other people who disrupt The Volunteer’s daily routine. The movie plays guessing games with viewers over whether not these people are ghosts or are hallucinations from The Volunteer. Look beneath the surface, and the story can eventually be pieced together.

A teenage girl (played by Flo Crowe), who’s listed in the movie’s end credits as The Girl, keeps appearing. The Volunteer sometimes sees this girl, who does not speak. A major clue about who this girl is revealed later in the story. Hint: It has to do with a diagonal scar across her abdomen and how she got the scar.

Meanwhile, The Volunteer tells The Girl: “Please don’t climb up there. I don’t want to keep telling you, but I have to.” The Girl seems to have psychic abilities because she knows in advance what The Volunteer is saying and ends up repeating the same words simultaneously.

The Volunteer also encounters a character listed in the end credits as The Boatman (played by Rowe), who visits The Volunteer and seems to have a romantic interest in her. (There’s a brief scene of The Volunteer and The Boatman having sex up against a wall.) At one point, The Boatman sees a wildflower in a drinking glass of water on a table in the cottage. The Boatman tells The Volunteer, “I thought you weren’t supposed to pick them.” She answers, “I’m not. I’m not here on my own.”

In a nearby chapel, The Volunteer sees a dedication plaque listing the names of the seven men who were lost at sea on a lifeboat in May 1897. And when seven men in identical hooded fisherman’s outfits suddenly appear on the cliffs, it’s easy to deduce who they are. But what exactly are they doing there?

“Enys Men” has several references to lichen, a plant-like organism that has symbiotic association with algae or cyanobacteria. It’s another big clue that makes sense when certain visuals are presented in the movie. A scene with a preacher (played by John Woodvine, Mary Woodvine’s real-life father) in the chapel is a pivotal moment.

“Enys Men” is not supposed to be a showcase for memorable conversations, since most of the movie shows The Volunteer by herself, and the movie intentionally wants viewers to feel a sense of foreboding isolation in a remote area that The Volunteer eventually feels. Because there isn’t a lot of dialogue in “Enys Men,” viewers have to carefully observe the actions of the movie’s characters. It’s also a slow-paced movie that doesn’t have a lot of jump scares but is more of a psychological mystery.

“Enys Men” has some haunting images that will either intrigue or frustrate viewers (or maybe do both), because this movie does not present easy answers about the story’s narrative and what it all means. It might seem chaotic and confusing, but there’s a method to the madness. The purpose of “Enys Men” becomes clear to viewers who have the patience to pay attention and deduce what this movie is trying to say about human beings’ connection to nature.

UPDATE: Neon will release “Enys Men” in select U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on January 13, 2023.

Review: ‘The Nan Movie,’ starring Catherine Tate

August 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mathew Horne, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Catherine Tate in “The Nan Movie” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Nan Movie”

Directed by Josie Rourke

Culture Representation: Taking place in England and in Ireland, the comedic film “The Nan Movie” features a cast of predominantly white British and Irish people (with one African American and one person of South Asian heritage) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Mean-spirited senior citizen Joanie Taylor, nicknamed Nan, reluctantly goes with her grandson on a road trip from London to Dublin to reunite with her estranged younger sister, who is dying from a terminal illness.

Culture Audience: “The Nan Movie” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Catherine Tate and the Nan character that she created for her BBC TV series, but everyone else will find this movie very hard to take.

Pictured in center row: Catherine Tate, Parker Sawyers and Katherine Parkinson in “The Nan Movie” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Catherine Tate created the obnoxious elderly character Joanie “Nan” Taylor for short skits on her BBC comedy series “The Catherine Tate Show,” which was on the air from 2004 to 2007. “The Nan Movie” is the semi-torture of having to spend an entire road trip with this dreadful character. (“Nan” is a common nickname for a grandmother.) This junkpile film is just scene after scene of unfunny and repetitive scenarios where Joanie/Nan is excessively rude, crude and unbearable to be around—all for the sake of the filmmakers trying to force viewers to laugh at seeing an old woman character act in this putrid manner.

Directed by Josie Rourke, “The Nan Movie” is such an embarrassment to Rourke, she apparently asked her name to be removed from the movie after completing it. Brett Goldstein (of “Ted Lasso” fame) and Tate, who have no such shame, are credited as the screenwriters for “The Nan Movie.” Everyone involved in making “The Nan Movie” should be ashamed of themselves for creating this stinking mess of a film.

“The Nan Movie” follows working-class Nan going on a road trip with her hapless and easygoing grandson Jamie (played by Mathew Horne), as they travel from their hometown of London to Dublin. At first, Nan (who is a widow) thinks she’s going on a trip to a day spa in Coventry, England. But she finds out that Jamie (who’s doing the driving) is really taking Nan to visit Nan’s estranged younger sister Nell (played by Katherine Parkinson), also known as Nelly, who is dying of an unnamed terminal illness.

Along the way, vulgar shenanigans ensue: Nan hurls insults at people; she falls in with a bunch of rowdy young partiers (including the expected drinking and drugging); she crosses paths with some violent animal rights activists; and she urinates in the car. Nan and Jamie meet a friendly stranger in a bar named Mick (played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), and he’s invited along for the ride, but predictably isn’t quite as nice as he first appeared to be.

“The Nan Movie” also has a cartoonish “villain”: a traffic cop named Officer Mahler (played by Niky Wardley), an uptight and scowling grouch, who is based in Liverpool, England. Officer Mahler holds a grudge against Nan because Nan got Officer Mahler fired from her previous job for allegedly being “insensitive to the elderly.” Like a stalker, Officer Mahler shows up in various places where Nan and Jamie are, as if Officer Mahler has nothing better to do with her time but to try to catch Nan doing something illegal in places outside of Officer Mahler’s jurisdiction.

During this road trip, Jamie asks Nan to tell him why she and Nell haven’t spoken to each other in decades. This leads to dull flashbacks of Joanie and Nell in their childhoods, teenage years and adulthoods. As young adults, Joanie and Nell were partners in crime as thieves, stealing mostly furniture and then selling the stolen merchandise. The reason for the sisters falling out with each other had to do with their rivalry over the same man as a love interest: an African American military soldier named Walter (played by Parker Sawyers), whom the sisters met in England during World War II, when they were both in their 20s.

Walter is the only African American in Joanie and Nell’s social circle, so there are idiotic racist comments/scenarios in “The Nan Movie.” In one of the many mind-numbing flashback scenes, Joanie has this to say to Walter when they first meet each other at a dancehall: “Ain’t you a big, black beautiful sight for sore eyes.” When Nan and Jamie get to Ireland on the road trip, the movie is polluted with dimwitted xenophobic remarks about Irish people, including mindless and loathsome stereotypes that mention leprechauns and alcoholism.

This movie is so stupid, the math doesn’t add up for Nan’s age. If she were in her 20s during World War II (which took place from 1939 to 1945), then Nan would be in her late 90s or over 100 years old in the early 2020s. Instead, Nan is presented in the movie (which takes place in the early 2020s) as someone who’s supposed to be in her 70s or 80s. “The Nan Movie” also has some sloppy-looking and ugly cartoon sequences to depict some of the drug hallucinations experienced by Nan.

There’s really no point in further describing this trash dump of a movie, except to say that there really aren’t any redeeming qualities to it. The so-called jokes are terrible, the acting is close to unwatchable, and the story has no originality or innovation. If you want rude and lewd adult comedy, then you’re better off watching any number of stand-up comedian specials to fulfill that purpose, instead of killing some of your brain cells with the time-wasting abomination that is “The Nan Movie.”

Screen Media Films released “The Nan Movie” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on July 22, 2022. The movie is set for release on DVD on September 6, 2022. “The Nan Movie” was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on March 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Benediction’ (2021), starring Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeremy Irvine, Kate Phillips, Gemma Jones and Ben Daniels

July 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeremy Irvine and Jack Lowden in “Benediction” (Photo by Laurence Cendrowicz/Roadside Attractions)

“Benediction” (2021)

Directed by Terence Davies

Culture Representation: Taking place from the 1910s to 1950s, primarily in England, the dramatic film “Benediction” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one African person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: During World War I, British soldier Siegfried Sassoon becomes an anti-war objector and a poet, and for years he hides his homosexuality, including by getting married to a woman. 

Culture Audience: “Benediction” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in true stories of British gay men in the 20th century.

Kate Phillips and Jack Lowden in “Benediction” (Photo by Laurence Cendrowicz/Roadside Attractions)

Well-acted but slightly long-winded, the British drama “Benediction” is a compelling biopic that shows how poet Siegfried Sassoon was not only bold and outspoken about his anti-war views, but he was also insecure and secretive about his homosexuality. The movie gives emotionally complex depictions of how fame cannot shield LGBTQ people from the bigotry that pressures LGBTQ people to sometimes lead double lives. “Benediction” is a 20th century period drama, but many of the movie’s issues about homophobia can still apply to many people today. Written and directed by Terence Davies, “Benediction” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

In real life, Siegfried Sassoon had turmoil not just about his sexuality but also about his religious faith and coming from a broken home. Born in Matfield, England, in 1886, Siegfried died in Heytsebury, England, at age 80 in 1967, just one week before he would have turned 81. His father Alfred was Jewish, and his mother Theresa was Catholic. Alfred was disowned from his family for marrying a non-Jewish woman.

When Siegfried was 4 years old, his parents separated. Siegfried (who was the middle of three sons) and his older brother Michael and younger brother Hamo were then raised by their mother, while their father would see them for visits. And then, Alfred died of tuberculosis in 1895, when Siegfried was 7 or 8 years old. Years later, tuberculosis would nearly kill the man who was considered to be the greatest love of Siegfried’s life.

“Benediction” would have benefited from some exploration of Siegfried’s childhood and family background, which undoubtedly shaped the person he became. It would certainly explain why Siegfried wasn’t afraid to go against society’s expectations as a military man who became an outspoken objector against war and against the British government. Siegfried lived during a time in the United Kingdom when it was very taboo for people to be in mixed-religion marriages and for married people to separate. Being treated like an “outsider” simply because of his parents’ marital situation no doubt affected Siegfried in ways that carried into his adulthood.

Instead of giving this backstory, “Benediction” shows Siegfried in two different phases of his life: when Siegfried was his 30s and 40s (played by Jack Lowden) and when Siegfried was in his 70s (played by Peter Capaldi), with the younger phase of Sisgfried’s life getting most of the screen time. This uneven timeline doesn’t ruin “Benediction,” but it does make it more obvious to viewers how the movie under-uses the talent of Capaldi.

“Benediction” opens in London in 1914. Siegfried and his younger brother Hamo (played by Thom Ashley) are visiting a tailor shop together. In 1914, Siegfried was an aspiring poet and a British Army soldier who would later become a second lieutenant and a decorated war hero for saving soldiers’ lives during combat. When Hamo goes off to serve in the British Army during World War I, Siegfried expresses regret at not saying goodbye to his brother. Hamo was tragically killed in the line of duty during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.

By 1917, Siegfried became disillusioned about World War I and war in general. The movie shows him writing letters of protest to the United Kingdom government. A scene in “Benediction” shows him reading one of the letters, which says in part: “I believe that war upon which I entered in defense and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest.”

As an example of Siegfried’s willingness to sacrifice his military career for his anti-war beliefs, he meets with an openly gay journalist/mentor named Robbie Ross (played by Simon Russell Beale), who comes from an influential political family, to find out what punishment Siegfried will be getting from the British government. In this meeting, Siegfried is fully expecting to hear that the British military is going to court martial Siegfried because of Siegfried’s public criticism of the British government’s stance on World War I. But to Siegfried’s dismay, Robbie tells Siegfried that Robbie enlisted the help of Edward Marsh, the principal private secretary of then-U.K. minister of munitions Winston Churchill, to get Siegfried honorably discharged from the military for medical reasons.

“You robbed me of my dignity!” Siegfried angrily says to Robbie about not getting court martialed. Robbie says, “Don’t be angry with me, Siegfried. My intentions were honorable.” Despite this argument, Robbie (who is 18 years older than Siegfried) and Siegfried remain friends. Robbie became a trusted advisor in Siegfried’s personal and professional lives. “Benediction” briefly mentions later in the movie that Robbie was also known for his close relationship with gay poet/writer Oscar Wilde, whom Robbie remained loyal to during Wilde’s imprisonment for being gay.

At the time, homosexuality was banned in the British military, and homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder. “Benediction” makes it look like although Siegfried might have been suspected of being gay in the military, he was punished more for speaking out against the British government. His military discharge included being sent to a psychiatric hospital for having “psychiatric problems.”

In a dramatic show of his disgust with the British military, Siegfried throws away his military card. At the hospital, he has therapy sessions with a sympathetic psychiatrist named Dr. Rivers (played by Ben Daniels), who says things to Siegfried such as: “It’s not about what I want. It’s about what you think you need.” It’s not said out loud, but it’s implied that Dr. Rivers is a closeted gay man too.

Over time, Siegfried begins to trust Dr. Rivers because he and the doctor are kindred spirits who both have a lot of mistrust of the British government. Siegfried witnesses some disturbing things in the hospital, such as a man screaming out on agony during a meltdown, but Dr. Rivers is able to calm Siegfried’s fears. During his stay in the psychiatric hospital, Siegfried befriends a fellow patient named Wilfred Owen (played by Matthew Tennyson), who is the editor of a poetry newsletter called The Hydra.

Siegfried and Wilfred become great admirers of each other’s poetry. Siegfried is particularly impressed with Wilfred’s poem “Disabled.” It looks like Siegfried and Wilfred are headed toward a romance. But that possibility is interrupted when a chief medical officer (played by Julian Sands) has an angry reaction to seeing Siegfried and Wilfred doing a tango dance together. What happens to Wilfred is shown in the movie.

“Benediction” spends a lot of time depicting the ups and downs of Siegfried’s love life. People closest to Siegfried knew he was gay, but he was still “in the closet” about his true sexuality to most people. “Benediction” implies that Siegfried probably would’ve been more open about his sexuality if there weren’t severe punishments for being gay in the United Kingdom at the time.

Despite hiding his sexual identity from many people, Siegfried had an active social life. The movie shows Siegfried, Robbie and their mutual friend Dorothy Brett (played by Georgina Rylance) being invited to a party by Lady Edith Oliver (played by Olivia Darnley), one of the high-society people who became acquainted with Siegfried because of his poetry. It’s at this party that Siegfried meets celebrated actor/composer Ivor Novello (played by Jeremy Irvine), who is an openly gay playboy.

Siegfried falls for Ivor’s charms but quickly finds out that he’s one of many of Ivor’s lovers who get tossed aside and picked up again, according to Ivor’s whims. In fact, when Ivor and Siegfried hook up for the first time, Ivor’s actor boyfriend Glen Byam Shaw (played by Tom Blyth) walks in on them. Ivor cruelly tells Glen to leave the house keys as a way to break up with Glen in that moment

“Benediction” portrays Siegfried’s on-again/off-again relationship with Ivor as not so much of a romance but more like an addiction that Siegfried finds hard to quit. Ivor is up front with his lovers in telling them that he doesn’t believe in monogamy. And this is how Ivor describes his views about love: “The main drawback about love is that it descends all too quickly into possessiveness. It really is a bore.”

Ivor doesn’t like Siegfried’s friend/mentor Robbie. Siegfried’s mother Theresa (played by Geraldine James) doesn’t like Ivor. Theresa has this to say about Ivor: “He’s amusing but unpleasant.” Is it any wonder that Siegfried’s relationship with Ivor is doomed to fail?

In a scene that looks fabricated for a movie, Ivor’s ex-lover Glen happens to see Siegfried and Ivor break up at a restaurant. It should not come as a big surprise that after seeing this breakup, Glen immediately wants to get close to Siegfried. Glen offers to drive Siegfried to Kent so that Siegfried can visit his grandmother. During this trip, the two men get to know each other better in more ways than one. However, Glen eventually decides he’s going to marry an actress.

“Benediction” portrays aristocrat Stephen Tennant (played by Calam Lynch) as the biggest love of Siegfried’s life. However, Stephen and Siegfried’s love affair is plagued by mutual jealousy. Even when Ivor was no longer dating Siegfried, Ivor seems to still have some kind of hold over Siegfried. And it bothers Stephen immensely. Siegfried also gets jealous of the attention that Stephen gets from other men. This love affair also ends in heartbreak.

In his 40s, Siegfried strikes up a close friendship with a lively and outgoing socialite named Hester Gatty (played by Kate Phillips), despite Hester being 20 years younger than he is. Hester knows that Siegfried is gay. Siegfried also confides in Hester about problems in his love life.

And eventually, Hester proposes marriage to Siegfried, knowing that she will be his “beard,” to cover up the fact that he is gay. Siegfried and Hester get married in 1933, mainly because they want to start a family together. Their son (and only child) George was born in 1936.

Where does the story of older Siegfried fit into the movie? It’s told in the context of an emotionally unsettled Siegfried fighting depression and looking back on his life while deciding that he’s going to convert to Catholicism. Siegfried’s adult son George (played by Richard Goulding) is very skeptical about Siegfried being committed and sincere about being a Catholic. It leads to some father/son conflicts that aren’t very interesting, mainly because viewers never get to see what kind of father Siegfried was to George for most of George’s life.

As for older Hester (played by Gemma Jones), living in a fake marriage has taken a toll on her. The young Hester was hopefully optimistic that being married to her gay best friend would have a happy ending. The older Hester is somewhat bitter because she sees the reality that although she is happy with being a mother, she and Siegfried deprived themselves of living authentically and possibly being in a true romance with someone else. Hester also knows that this arranged marriage benefited Siegfried more than it benefited her.

However, that doesn’t mean Siegfried feels any more satisfied than Hester in how this marriage turned out to be a stagnant relationship. Siegfried and Hester just barely tolerate each other but feel obligated to stay together to keep up appearances during a time when divorce was still a big stigma for many people. Siegfried wanting to convert to Catholicism is an obvious indication that he doesn’t consider divorce to be an option for this unhappy marriage.

There’s not a bad performance in “Benediction,” with Lowden being an obvious standout for his portrayal of the complicated and somewhat unpredictable Siegfried. Irvine also gives a memorable supporting performance as heartbreaker Ivor, who seems to have love/hate relationships with most people in his life. Jones and Capaldi also give admirable and nuanced performances as the older Siegfried and older Hester in the limited screen time that they have.

In a movie about a famous poet, the writing should also be commendable. “Benediction” has snippets of Siegfried’s poetry, of course, but the movie delivers a lot of above-average and snappy dialogue from Davies’ original screenplay. In a scene where Siegfried finds out that Ivor is dating actor Bobby Andrews (played by Harry Lawtey) at the same time that Ivor has been dating Siegfried, Bobby quips: “If you want fidelity, Siegfried, buy a pet.” (In real life, this actor spelled his name as Bobbie Andrews.) Later, when Glen tells Siegfried that he’s marrying a woman, Glen cynically says: “Purity is like virginity. As soon as you touch it, it becomes corrupt.”

“Benediction” unquestionably has high-quality filmmaking, when it comes to the movie’s acting, production design and costume design. However, “Benediction” doesn’t quite have what it takes to win major awards for any aspects of its filmmaking. The biggest issue is that parts of the film tend to lumber and could have used better editing.

There’s also the problem of introducing Siegfried at a later stage of his life and yet not giving that period of his life enough screen time. The movie leaves out huge parts of Siegfried’s life after he married Hester. These omissions just bring up many questions that “Benediction” never answers.

“Benediction” also doesn’t adequately explain what motivated Siegfried to convert to Catholicism at this stage in his life. There are hints that he was ashamed of his sexuality and wanted to atone for it in a religion that condemns homosexuality, but that interior reasoning is never fully explored in the movie. And for a very manipulative reason (which won’t be revealed in this review), “Benediction” fabricates a story arc near the end of the film about Siegfried becoming a widower. In real life, Hester Sassoon died in 1973—six years after Siegfried’s death.

Viewers might also question if “Benediction” glosses over or ignores a lot of the abusive homophobia that Siegfried might have experienced in his personal life. Except for being put in a psychiatric institution (where “Benediction” shows he was treated pretty well and was lucky enough to have an understanding doctor), Siegfried was never imprisoned, tortured, bullied or fired for his sexuality, if you believe everything in this movie. It might be a testament to Siegfried having certain privileges (fame and high-society friends) that lesser-known and less-privileged gay men didn’t have as protection against homophobic cruelties.

Despite these narrative flaws, “Benediction” is worth seeing for a fascinating portrait of a highly talented artist, what he went through in leading a double life, and the price he and his loved ones had to pay as a result. Viewers who are inclined to think arthouse British period dramas can be too stuffy probably won’t like “Benediction” too much. But for people who enjoy or who are open to this type of entertainment, then “Benediction” is a biopic that will satisfy those cinematic tastes.

Roadside Attractions released “Benediction” in select U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 20, 2022, and in Australia in 2021.

Review: ‘Flux Gourmet,’ starring Asa Butterfield, Gwendoline Christine, Ariane Labed, Fatma Mohamed, Makis Papadimitriou, Richard Bremmer and Leo Bill

July 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Asa Butterfield, Fatma Mohamed and Ariane Labed in “Flux Gourmet” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Flux Gourmet”

Directed by Peter Strickland

Some language in Greek and German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Flux Gourmet” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three artists, who are in a group that combines food and sonic experiences, have ego battles and power struggles during a month-long residency at a culinary institute, while the person hired to document this residency has severe intestinal problems. 

Culture Audience: “Flux Gourmet” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Gwendoline Christie and filmmaker Peter Strickland, as well as to viewers who want to see a very offbeat satire of culinary institutions.

Gwendoline Christie and Asa Butterfield in “Flux Gourmet” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Flux Gourmet” has some elements of body horror, but viewers are better off knowing that the movie is a dark comedy rather than anything that’s sinister. The tone is amusing and annoying, but presented in an original way. And although parts of “Flux Gourmet” tend to drag, the movie will keep open-minded viewers curious enough to see what will happen next. However, just like certain foods, “Flux Gourmet” has a “gross-out” factor that definitely isn’t for everyone.

Written and directed by Peter Strickland, “Flux Gourmet” takes place over three weeks at a culinary institute in an unnamed city in England. (The movie was actually filmed in Yorkshire, England.) “Flux Gourmet” revolves around the fictional Sonic Catering Institute, an avant-garde, live-in culinary program where residents perform art that combines sounds and food. The institute’s director is the imposing Jan Stevens (played by Gwendoline Christie), who gets people to do what she wants by convincing them that her ideas are the best ideas.

At the moment, Jan’s attentions are preoccupied by three Sonic Catering Institute residents, who have formed a band but don’t yet have a name for the band. A running joke in the movie is that people spend a lot of time arguing about what this band will be doing for its art performances, but the band members can’t even decide on what the band’s name will be. Two of the possible band names are Elle and the Fatty Acids and Elle and the Gastric Ulcers.

The band’s leader is the hot-tempered Elle di Elle (played by Fatma Mohamed), who clashes with Jan the most. Elle wants to run the band like she’s a visionary dictator. She openly admits that even if someone comes up with a better idea than Elle does, Elle thinks Elle’s ideas should always be the ones that the band should implement. Not surprisingly, Elle has a huge ego, and she believes that she’s the only one in the group who has any real talent.

Another band member is Lamina Propria (played by Ariane Labed), who is sarcastic and sometimes insecure. Lamina and Elle, who knew each other before they joined Sonic Catering Institute, often trade mean-spirited and angry barbs at each other. However, their arguments aren’t as explosive as the ones that Elle has with Jan. It’s later revealed in the movie that before Lamina and Elle joined this culinary institute, Lamina and Elle started off as friends, became bandmates, and then lovers. Lamina broke off the romantic relationship with Elle, who is still very bitter about it.

Billy Rubin (played by Asa Butterfield) is the youngest and quietest member of the group. Billy tries to stay out of the women’s arguments. He occasionally contributes ideas, even when he knows that control freak Elle will insult or reject other people’s ideas. It isn’t really made clear why Billy decided to be in this band, but he feels stuck and doesn’t want to quit.

Jan has hired a journalist named Stones (played by Makis Papadimitriou) to document this group and its performances, which all take place at the institute’s headquarters. Jan calls Stones a “dossierge,” with duties that include taking photos, making video recordings, and taking notes on the group’s activities. After a while, Stones doesn’t do much but follow the group around without a camera.

Stones is the movie’s occasional narrator and says his narration in Greek. The movie never mentions if Stones was born in England, or if his national origin is from another country. Among this group of very strong personalities, Stones is fairly docile, and he doesn’t take sides in any of the arguments.

“Flux Gourmet” is told in three chapters, each representing a week at this institute. The first chapter is titled “Week One: The Mouth Is Light Thereof,” The second chapter is titled “The Stomach Is the Plight Thereof.” The third chapter is titled “The Bowel Is the Night Thereof.” Yes, this movie literally goes deep in exploring gastrointestinal activities. You have been warned.

At the institute, all three band members sleep in separate beds, side by side, in the same room. Stones sleeps in an adjacent room. And he has a secret: He has a severe intestinal problem, which his eccentric internist Dr. Glock (played by Richard Bremmer) has been trying to diagnose. The intestinal problem has caused Stones to have an acute case of acid reflux and constant flatulence.

Therefore, Stones’ current job is the worst kind of hell for him: He has to live and work at a culinary institute while constantly fighting the urge to gag after eating and farting at inappropriate times. In his voiceover narration, Stones gives his occasional thoughts on what’s going on with his bowels. It’s “gross-out” comedy that gets tiresome very quickly.

What’s more interesting is to see how the power dynamics play out with Jan and the three members of the band. Sometimes, Stones gets caught in the crossfire. For example, when he’s taking photos during a photo shoot of the band trio, Jan and Elle clash over Jan wanting to control the photo shoot when Jan tells Stones how something should be done.

Elle sneers at Stones: “And you obey the director’s every command?” Jan says her comment to Stones was “a suggestion more than a command, but feel free to try something different if you wish.” Elle adds, “I’d just like to be in control for one portrait.”

Jan responds, “Don’t we all? But may I suggest a more conciliatory tone with the dossierge here. He’s just doing his job.” Viewers will notice that Jan often tries to cover up her hostility in calm, measured tones, as if she want to be the more civil person in the conversation. Elle has no such restraint, since Elle will shout and sometimes bang on tables, like a bratty child, to intimidate people and get what she wants.

There are hints that Elle’s bark is worse than her bite. Every time Jan appears in a room and Elle is there, Elle whispers in a slightly terrified tone of voice: “Jan Stevens.” Elle is also acutely aware that Jan has the financial power to end this band project, but Elle tries not to let it show that Jan’s power bothers Elle.

The band members take part in two types of rituals as part of their artist residency. At group dinners with Jan, the band and other members of the culinary institute, there’s a tradition of someone standing up at the table to give an after-dinner speech about any topic of the speaker’s choosing. The other ritual is that after each performance, the band has orgies with audience members. These sex scenes are shown as blurry images that aren’t explicit.

There’s a level of intrigue in “Flux Gourmet” when it’s shown that Jan has been getting threatening phone calls, where the caller blurts out something menacing, and then Jan quickly hangs up. One of these comments is “I don’t take too kindly to being ignored.” Who is making these calls and why? The movie might not offer any answers, but these phone calls foreshadow something that happens in the last third of the movie.

“Flux Gourmet” has discussions and visuals that will definitely be too much of a turnoff for some viewers. Some of the characters talk about playing a sexual game they call The Finger Game, which is exactly what you think it might be. In another scene, Elle eats pages from a book. And at one point, the band convinces Stones to do a live gastroscopy as part of the band’s performance, with the gastroscopy shown on big video screens.

Meanwhile, Jan abuses her power by trying to seduce Billy. “Flux Gourmet” shows whether or not Jan gets her way with Billy and how he ultimately reacts. The movie leaves it open to interpretation for viewers to decide if Jan should be pitied or despised for how she tries to manipulate Billy into a relationship that Jan admits is inappropriate.

The crass and crude elements of “Flux Gourmet” work better in the dialogue rather than in the visuals. For example, there’s a funny segment where Elle and Lamina have a late-night conversation where they discuss Stones’ intestinal problem. This leads to Lamina rattling off some statistical trivia about farting before she suddenly stops when she sees that Stones could overhear what she’s saying. This dialogue has a “Monty Python”-eseque quality that should have been in more of “Flux Gourmet,” which at times gets dull with some of the repetitive arguments and scolding that Elle usually instigates.

And the arguments sometimes get very petty and tedious, such as a scene where Elle spills virgin olive oil on some stairs, she suddenly feels faint, and Stones graciously helps her up the stairs. Witnessing the whole thing is Lamina, who gets annoyed because she thinks Elle was just trying to get attention. Later, Lamina gets angry at Elle because Lamina was the one who had to clean up the spilled oil from the stairs and no one thanked her. How old are these people? Twelve?

Some of the movie’s visual gags try to be disgusting but end up being manipulative and not as shocking as they first appear to be. There’s a scene where Elle smears a brown substance all over her face as part of a performance, and she gets audience backlash for it. But then, a technical assistant named Wim (played by Leo Bill) finds out the truth about this particular performance, and this truth undermines the band’s credibility. In another scene, an angry, skirt-wearing Elle pulls down her underwear and looks like she’s about to urinate or defecate on something for revenge, but then she stops.

These are examples of how “Flux Gourmet” writer/director Strickland seems to wants to be like an extreme provocateur filmmaker such as Lars von Trier, but Strickland holds back just enough so as not to alienate too many audience members. It seems a little wishy-washy and indecisive. If you’re going to do gross-out body horror, go all in and commit to it, and don’t play games with the audience with some of the tricks used in “Flux Gourmet.”

As for the cast members’ performances, Christie and Mohamed have the flashiest roles (and costume designs to match) as the feuding Jan and Elle. Jan is the more complicated character who shows more vulnerability. Labed has some standout scenes as Lamina, who delivers a blunt honesty that’s a refreshing antidote to Elle’s overblown and pretentious antics. The male characters in “Flux Gourmet” are the passive characters, which is a twist on a typical culinary institute environment that’s usually male-dominated in real life.

“Flux Gourmet” is by no means a thoroughly entertaining film. The movie has an uneven tone and will test the patience of viewers with some scenes that try too hard to be weird for weirdness’ sake. However, there’s enough oddball comedy for people who want to see a unique satire of culinary institutions and performance art. Just make sure that you don’t watch this movie thinking that it will make you hungry for delicious-looking food. “Flux Gourmet” is more likely to make you nauseous.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Flux Gourmet” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 24, 2022.

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