Review: ‘Tuesday’ (2024), starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lola Petticrew, Leah Harvey and Arinzé Kene

June 29, 2024

by Carla Hay

Lola Petticrew and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Tuesday” (Photo by Kevin Baker/A24) (Photo by Kevin Baker/A24)

“Tuesday” (2024)

Directed by Daina O. Pusić

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the dramatic film “Tuesday” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 15-year-old girl (who has an unnamed terminal illness) and her worried mother have interactions with death, which manifests itself as a talking macaw that can willingly change the size of its body. 

Culture Audience: “Tuesday” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and offbeat movies about confronting mortality.

Lola Petticrew and Death (voiced by Arinzé Kene) in “Tuesday” (Photo by Kevin Baker/A24)

The morbid drama “Tuesday” is best appreciated by viewers who can tolerate surrealistic movies about death. It’s a unique story about a mother and daughter interacting with death, which is embodied as a talking macaw. The concept is creative but alienating. The people who will dislike this movie will really hate it, while others will either like or love this movie. It’s a flawed but interesting film. The cast members’ performances might keep viewer interest if people still want to watch the movie after seeing how death is portrayed in the story.

“Tuesday” is the feature-film directorial debut of writer/director Daina O. Pusić, also known as Daina Oniunas-Pusić. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and then made the rounds at other film festivals, such as the 2023 BFI London Film Festival and the 2024 Miami Film Festival. Before writing and directing “Tuesday,” Pusić wrote and directed short films.

The opening sequence in “Tuesday” shows Death (an orange macaw) taking the lives of several people in various locations. “Tuesday” takes place in an unnamed city in England, where the movie was filmed on location.) Death can change its size by choice. In the movie, Death’s sizes range from being as small as a thimble to as large as a tall building. The character of Death is a combination of computer-generated imagery and visual effects for a live actor performance. In the scenes where Death is human-sized or larger, Death is portrayed by actor Arinzé Kene.

Death has a deep, gravelly voice that can be off-putting to some viewers. When Death is ready to take someone’s life, Death gives that someone a very tight embrace. Some of the dying people welcome death, while others don’t want death anywhere near them. Some are shocked and frightened by seeing Death, while others are not surprised and are much more accepting.

These contrasting attitudes toward Death can be seen in the mother and daughter who are the people at the center of the story. Zora (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is an American single mother, who lives with her 15-year-old daughter Tuesday (played by Lola Petticrew), who has an unnamed terminal illness. Tuesday’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie. It’s also never explained why Zora is living in England, but it can be presumed she’s lived in England for several years because Tuesday has an English accent.

Tuesday uses an oxygen tank and a wheelchair. She also has a compassionate home care nurse named Billie (played by Leah Harvey), who visits the household on a regular basis. An early scene in the movie takes place in a taxidermy shop, where Zora is selling some unusual taxidermy figures: rats dressed as Catholic bishops. Zora says these items are her daughter’s but Zora is selling them without her daughter’s knowledge. It’s later revealed that Zora has been secretly selling things in the household because she lost her job and doesn’t want to tell Tuesday.

Tuesday is the first person in the household to see Death. Instead of being alarmed, Tuesday tells Death a story. Death laughs and shrinks to the size of a thimble. It’s the beginning of a unusual acquaintance that develops between Tuesday and Death. Tuesday is lonely (at one point, she mentions later that her friends abandoned her because of her illness), so she enjoys talking to Death.

When it comes to Tuesday’s terminal illness, Zora is much less accepting of it than Tuesday. Whereas Tuesday seems to be quietly peparing to die, Zora is angrily defiant and doesn’t want to consider that Tuesday is running out of time to be alive. The movie does not mention how long Tuesday has had this terminal illness or the medical diagnosis for Tuesday’s life expectancy. Zora believes that she and Tuesday can successfully fight this disease together.

Needless to say, Zora’s first encounters with Death are very hostile. It leads to some disturbing scenes where Zora tries to get rid of Death. (Sensitive viewers, be warned: These scenes show some animal cruelty.) And then, Zora does something truly bizarre that will either further alienate viewers of this movie or will make viewers curious to see what will result from Zora’s extreme actions.

“Tuesday” might have been better as a short film, since much of the movie gets repetitive, with pacing that drags. The movie’s marketing is somewhat misleading because Zora is not in the film as much as the movie’s trailer and poster suggests. There’s a huge chunk of the movie where Zora is not seen at all. Most of the conversations that Death has are with Tuesday.

Billie is an underdeveloped character. Don’t expect to learn much about her or anyone else in the movie who isn’t Zora, Tuesday or Death. Billie is the supporting character who gets the most screen time. All the other supporting characters pass through the story in cameo roles.

“Tuesday” has flashes of droll comedy, but the movie’s overall tone is gloomy and weird. Tuesday is an intelligent teenager who’s a little eccentric. Her personality is at the heart of the film. There are times that Tuesday wants to die, which is very unsettling to Zora, who says out loud that it’s unnatural for a parent to outlive a child.

“Tuesday” takes a bold risk of not following the usual movie stereotype of making Zora a saintly mother of an ailing child. Zora is often impatient and rude. As the story goes on, it becomes clearer that Zora’s bad attitude has a lot to do with being under financial pressure to take care of Tuesday while Zora is unemployed and dreading a future without Tuesday.

What saves “Tuesday” from being too abstract and too enamored with its fantastical elements is the fact that the film’s story is grounded in an authentic depiction of a mother-daughter relationship. The movie is an unusual portrayal of stages of grief when it comes to death. “Tuesday” is memorable for its talking bird, but what will stay with viewers the most is what the movie has to say about humanity.

A24 released “Tuesday” in select U.S. cinemas on June 7, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on July 14, 2024.

Review: ‘Wicked Little Letters,’ starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Gemma Jones, Joanna Scanlan, Malachi Kirby, Lolly Adefope, Eileen Atkins and Timothy Spall

April 6, 2024

by Carla Hay

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley in “Wicked Little Letters” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Wicked Little Letters”

Directed by Thea Sharrock

Culture Representation: Taking place in the early 1920s, in Littlehampton, England, the comedy/drama film “Wicked Little Letters” (inspired by real events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two women, who have opposite personalities and who happen to live next door to each other, get into an escalating feud when one of the women is accused of anonymously sending hateful and obscene letters to the other woman and several other people they know in the area. 

Culture Audience: “Wicked Little Letters” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and well-acted satires about crime and discrimination.

Timothy Spall in “Wicked Little Letters” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Wicked Little Letters” not only has an accused libelous harasser on trial but this smart and funny satire also puts sexism, xenophobia and classism on trial. Top-notch performances give an incisive edge when the comedy gets too slapstick. The movie’s ending is a bit rushed, but the overall story should be enjoyable for viewers who like movies that poke fun at societal flaws and hypocrisies.

Directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Jonny Sweet, “Wicked Little Letters” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is inspired by real events that took place in early 1920s England, when people in the small coastal town of Littlehampton were receiving anonymous, handwritten letters that had obscene insults directed at the letter recipients. “Wicked Little Letters” is partly a mystery about who is sending the letters and partly a send-up of how people react to the letters.

“Wicked Little Letters” also takes place in Littlehampton but condenses the real timeline of events from about three years to about a little over one year. The movie begins by showing that religious and conservative Edith Swan (played by Olivia Colman) has received the 19th letter in a series of obscene hate letters sent to her anonymously. Edith is a middle-aged, never-married bachelorette with no children. She lives in a townhouse with her parents: domineering and gruff Edward Swan (played by Timothy Spall) and passive and devoted Victoria Swan (played by Gemma Jones), who are understandably upset about the letters.

Edith shows this offensive letter to her parents. An outraged Edward wants to file a police report about these letters, but a reluctant Edith says she wants to avoid the embarrassment of making these letters public. Edith also says that whoever sent the letters deserves forgiveness and compassion. Eventually, Edward convinces Edith that they should file a police report because the only way for the letters to stop is to catch the culprit, and they need the help of law enforcement. Edith reluctantly agrees to give a statement to police.

Edward storms off the local police deparment and tells the investigating officer on duty about the letters. Constable Papperwick (played by Hugh Skinner) listens to what an angry Edward has to say and replies by saying that Constable Papperwick will fill out a form that will be filed for the police report. That response isn’t good enough for Edward, who thinks that Constable Papperwick isn’t taking the matter seriously. Edward insists that there should be a formal investigation.

Constable Papperwick relents and goes to the Swan home to do an interview with the Swans. Edward is quick to name the only person whom he thinks is sending the letters: a single mother named Rose Gooding (played by Jessie Buckley), who recently moved to the area from Ireland and who lives next door to the Swan family. Rose, who says her husband died in World War I, lives with her tween daughter Nancy (played by Alisha Weir) and Rose’s boyfriend (played by Malachi Kirby), who treats Nancy (who’s about 10 or 11 years old) and Rose with kindness and respect.

Edith then backs up the theory that Rose is sending the letters by telling Constable Papperwick more about why Rose is the most likely suspect. Rose and Edith actually started out as friendly acquaintances after Rose moved in next door. But some conflicts began to arise between the two women, who have opposite personalities.

The Swan family and Rose share a bathroom, which Edith says Rose often leaves in messy conditions. Edith thinks that Rose is a foul-mouthed slob, while Rose thinks that Edith is an uptight prude. The Swan family also disapproves of Rose because she sometimes likes to have rowdy fun and get drunk at pubs, which the Swans think is a very unladylike lifestyle.

Edith, who is nosy and judgmental, thinks it’s horrible that Rose dated several men before she began dating Bill. The Swans also don’t really approve of Rose because she’s Irish and an unmarried woman who’s “living in sin” with a lover. And it’s not said out loud in the movie, but it’s implied that because Bill also happens to be black, the Swans dislike that Rose and Bill are in an interracial romance.

At one point, someone anonymously called Child Protective Services against Rose. Nothing came of the CPS investigation, but Rose suspects that Edith is the one who called CPS to get Rose in trouble. All of these circumstances have made Rose the subject of gossip in the community, even before the obscene letters started being sent.

The tensions between Edith and Rose got worse during a birthday party for Edward, when a man at the party insulted Rose, and she punched him. This altercation ruined the party, and Edith put all the blame on Rose. Shortly after this party, Edith began receiving the obscene letters, which crudely accuse Edith of being promiscuous and kinky. The Swans tell Constable Papperwick that Rose is the only obvious suspect because she’s the only person they know who frequently curses like the curse-filled rants that are in the letters.

Constable Papperwick believes the Swans and immediately arrests Rose, who is charged with libel. Rose vehemently denies anything to do with the letters. Constable Papperwick and his boss Chief Constable Spedding (played by Paul Chahidi) think they have an easy open-and-shut case in proving that Rose is guilty.

However, police officer Gladys Moss (played by Anjana Vasan), the only woman in the police department, is skeptical that Rose is guilty because there is no real evidence against Rose. Gladys thinks that the police were too hasty in arresting Rose and believes that a handwriting analysis should be done as part of the investigation. Constable Papperwick and Chief Constable Spedding both think that doing a handwriting analysis is a waste of time and doesn’t count as evidence.

When Gladys expresses her concerns to Constable Papperwick and Chief Constable Spedding, these higher-ranking male cops are dismissive and condescending to Gladys in repeatedly sexist ways. Gladys suggests they should investigate further, because she thinks that Rose could be the target of a setup. Constable Papperwick sneers at her: “Woman officers don’t sleuth.” Chief Constable Spedding orders Gladys to stay out of the case. After Rose gets bailed out of jail, the obscene letters are sent to many more people in the community. And the scandal becomes big news in the United Kingdom.

In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, “Wicked Little Letters” shows the double standards that women face in society and how harsher judgments are placed on women if they do certain things that men are allowed to do without such judgment. Rose’s arrest is essentially because she does not conform to what this conservative community thinks a woman should be like: Rose sometimes gets drunk, she frequently swears, and she occasionally gets into fights to defend herself. A man doing the same things would not be condemned so severely.

Later in the movie, Rose finds out that Gladys is not allowed to marry and have children if she wants to keep her job as a police officer. It’s a sexist workplace rule that obviously doesn’t apply to men. When Rose asks Gladys why she wants to be a police officer, she says it’s because her father was a police officer, and she wants to do the work more than anything else. Gladys also has an adolescent niece named Winnie Moss (played by Krishni Patel), who also wants to become a police officer, and Gladys is mentoring Winnie.

The sexism doesn’t just come from men. An early scene in the move shows that Rose’s daughter Nancy likes to play acoustic guitar, but Rose tells Nancy, “Nice girls don’t play guitar.” (To her parental credit, Rose also tells Nancy to focus more on her academic studies.) On a more extreme level, Edith (who craves the approval of her strict and patriarchal father) has very bigoted ideas of what females should and should not do to be considered “respectable” and “feminine” in society.

“Wicked Little Letters” has some twists and turns in the story, which stays mostly faithful to the strange-but-true events that happened in real life. Although the names of the main characters have not been changed for the movie, some of the supporting characters were fabricated for the film. Rose finds some unlikely allies with three women who are Edith’s friends in a Christian women’s club that gets together to play cards: open-minded Mabel (played by Eileen Atkins), jolly Ann (played by Joanna Scanlan) and cautious postal worker Kate (played by Lolly Adefope), who is initially very suspicious of Rose.

“Wicked Little Letters” can get somewhat repetitive in showing how the odds are stacked against Rose. However, the investigation and the subsequent trial are intriguing and take comedic aim at the snobs in the community who are often hypocrites blinded by their own prejudices. The movie does not make adversaries Rose and Edith into caricatures. There are layers to Rose that show she’s a loving and responsible parent, not the unfit mother that she has been described as by her critics. Edith is also not quite as prim and proper as she appears to be.

Rose’s fiery personality and Edith’s reserved personality are seemingly at odds with each other. But Rose and Edith—just like Gladys—also share the common experience of being oppressed by sexism that wants to dictate or control how they should live their lives, simply because they are female. The heart of the film is in the admirable performances of Buckley, Colman and Vasan, who skillfully blend the film’s zippy comedy and the more serious drama. Amid the story about a criminal investigation and trial, “Wicked Little Letters” has poignant observations about female independence and female friendship—and what can be gained or lost under certain circumstances.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Wicked Little Letters” in select U.S. cinemas on March 29, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2024. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on February 23, 2024.

Review: ‘Raging Grace,’ starring Max Eigenmann, Jaeden Paige Boadilla, Leanne Best and David Hayman

January 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

Jaeden Paige Boadilla and Leanne Best in “Raging Grace” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Doppelgänger Releasing)

“Raging Grace”

Directed by Paris Zarcilla

Some language in Tagalog with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed in city in England, the horror film “Raging Grace” features a cast of Filipino and white characters (with one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A live-in housekeeper and her daughter experience terror inside the mansion of a wealthy recluse. 

Culture Audience: “Raging Grace” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching eerie horror movies that include issues related to classism, racism, immigration and generational trauma.

David Hayman and Max Eigenmann in “Raging Grace” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Doppelgänger Releasing)

The story in “Raging Grace” gets a bit messy, and some of the acting is too stiff, but it’s a genuinely unique horror movie that succeeds in offering many effective jump scares, along with astute observations about immigrant exploitation. The first third of the movie is too repetitive. Thing don’t get interesting until the last two-thirds of the film, when a character emerges from a coma and becomes a major part of the story.

Written and directed by Paris Zarcilla, “Raging Grace” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXS Film & TV Festival, where it won the grand jury prize for Best Narrative Feature, and Zarcilla was awarded the Thunderbird Rising Award for debut directors. “Raging Grace” is a story that mixes supernatural horror with the real-life horror of undocumented immigrants being exploited by employers. Zarcilla, who was born and raised in England to Filipino parents, has said in interviews that the movie was inspired by his childhood memories of helping his immigrant mother clean houses for wealthy people.

“Raging Grace” (which takes place in an unnamed city in England) centers on a housekeeper named Joy (played by Max Eigenmann), who is a single mother to a mischievous daughter named Grace (played by Jaeden Paige Boadilla), who is about 7 to 8 years old. Joy, who is originally from the Philippines, works as a housekeeper for an agency that knows she’s an undocumented immigrant. Grace was born in England.

Grace’s father is a British citizen who was not married to Joy and is no longer in a relationship with Joy. He is also an absentee father to Grace. Joy has lied to Grace by saying that Grace’s father is dead. Joy is constantly nervous and worried about many things. She gets frightened easily by small noises. At night, Joy has nightmares, some of which are flashbacks to when Grace’s father physically abused Joy. The movie eventually gives more details about who Grace’s father is.

Joy has made plans to get fraudulent immigration documents (such as a fake visa), which will cost her £15,000. She only has £10,000. Out of desperation, Joy takes a six-week, live-in housekeeping job that will pay £6,000. It’s an “under-the-table payment” job where Joy was hired directly by the employer, who asks Grace not to tell the agency.

The person who hires her for this job is a wealthy woman named Katherine (played by Leanne Best), who is very moody and strange. Katherine alternates between being cheerful and being coldly abrupt. She has hired Joy to be the housekeeper and caretaker for Katherine’s bedridden uncle Nigel Garrett (played by David Hayman), who’s called Mr. Garrett in the movie. He lives with Katherine in a secluded mansion, where he is in a coma and breathes through an oxygen tube.

Joy arrives at the mansion and smuggles Grace inside, because Joy knows that she’s not allowed to have a child with her on this job. Joy avoids answering Katherine’s question when Katherine asks Joy if Joy has any children. There are no other servants in the mansion. During Joy’s first few days on the job, Katherine gives a little bit of information about her family, by saying she’s the last living relative of her uncle Nigel.

Joy is professional and polite, but she is terrified of losing this job, because the person who will supply Joy with the illegal immigration documents expects her to pay the full £15,000 before he leaves the area in the following month. The money that Joy gets from Joy’s housekeeping work not only supports herself and Grace but Joy also sends some money to unnamed relatives in the Philippines. It isn’t made clear in the movie if Grace is homeschooled or if she is on a break from school, but Grace stays with Joy during day and doesn’t have any interaction any other children.

Katherine gives some basic instructions to Joy on how to look after the house. Katherine (who is not married and has no children) has a busy career (it’s later revealed that she’s a lawyer), so Joy gets minimal supervision during the day. However, Katherine can and does stop by the mansion unannounced. “Raging Grace” takes a while to get to the real horror of the story, because so much of the first third of the movie consists of scenes where Grace tries to avoid being seen by Katherine when Katherine is in the house.

Grace is the type of prankster who will do things like put jam in ketchup, as she does in the movie’s first scene when she is having dinner with Joy. She’s not a bad kid, but she is very lonely, restless and stubborn. And in a horror movie where there’s a kid in a creepy mansion, it should come as no surprise that Grace can see ghosts.

Yes, “Raging Grace” is a “haunted mansion” story. But who are the real threats to the safety of Grace and Joy? The ghosts or the living human beings who are in contact with Grace and Joy? Katherine eventually reveals that she’s very racist and thinks Filipino people and immigrants are inferior to white British people.

Through a series of circumstances that won’t be revealed here, Mr. Garrett comes out of his coma. This isn’t spoiler information, since Mr. Garrett regaining consciousness is in the movie’s trailer. When he emerges from his coma, he drops a bombshell on Joy: He tells her that he doesn’t have a niece.

The rest of “Raging Grace” turns into an intriguing mystery that keeps viewers guessing on who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. And what about the ghosts in the mansion? Who are they? Those answers are also revealed in the movie.

Eigenmann gives a convincing performance as protective mother Joy, while Boadilla’s often-flat delivery of her dialogue as Grace needed a lot of improvement. The movie is called “Raging Grace,” but her mother Joy is really the catalyst for much of what happens in the movie. “Raging Grace” co-star Best is competent and occasionally campy in her role as Katherine, while Hayman has the standout performance as the complicated Mr. Garrett.

“Raging Grace” writer/director Zarcella shows a knack for creating horror visuals and making editing choices that cause genuine terror and suspense. The movie stumbles a bit in trying to do too much in how a certain character seems to go back and forth between appearing to be a villain and appearing to be a hero. It starts to become muddled and comes dangerously close to ruining the movie’s narrative. However, the last 15 minutes of “Raging Grace”—despite the narrative becoming a little disjointed in a showdown scene—has enough for the movie to end in a memorable and powerful way.

Brainstorm Media & Doppelgänger Releasing released “Raging Grace” in select U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 8, 2023. “Raging Grace” was released in the United Kingdom on December 29, 2023.

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.

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