Review: ‘Boy Kills World,’ starring Bill Skarsgård

April 21, 2024

by Carla Hay

Bill Skarsgård in “Boy Kills World” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“Boy Kills World”

Directed by Moritz Mohr

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed dystopian society, the action film “Boy Kills World” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A deaf and mute man, who was raised as an orphan and trained to be a warrior by a shaman, goes on a revenge mission against the tyrannical dictator whom he blames for killing his family. 

Culture Audience: “Boy Kills World” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of videogame-styled action movies that have some offbeat comedy and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Famke Janssen in “Boy Kills World” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“Boy Kills World” is a cartoonishly violent revenge flick with touches of psychedelia and self-deprecating comedy in a dystopian society. The story drags with repetition in the middle of the movie, but a plot twist makes up for this occasional banality. This plot twist is not as predictable as another plot twist that happens around the same time.

Directed by Moritz Mohr, “Boy Kills World” was written by Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers. “Boy Kills World” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is based on director Mohr’s unreleased short film “Boy Kills World,” which has a similar concept.

In the feature-length “Boy Kills World,” which takes place in an unnamed dystopian society, a young man whose name is listed in the credits Boy (played by Bill Skarsgård) goes on a revenge mission against a tyrannical dictator named Beatrice Van Der Koy (played by Famke Janssen), whom he blames for murdering his mother (played by Rolanda Marais), his father (played by Ashley Dowds) and Boy’s younger sister Mina (played by Quinn Copeland) when Boy was about 13 or 14 years old and when Mina was about 9 or 10 years old. The teenage Boy is played by twins Cameron Crovetti and Nicholas Crovetti. Beatrice is the leader of the Van Der Koy family, who have several members who also abuse their positions of power to intimidate and kill people.

Every year, this bleak society has a mass murder event called the Culling, where Beatrice orders the military to go after enemies and kill innocent people on live TV. Boy’s family got caught in the Culling crossfire. Flashbacks show that he witnessed his mother’s murder. Boy was able to escape but became deaf and mute from the attack. He was rescued and taken to a remote wooded area by a mystic whose name is listed in the credits as Shaman (played by Yayan Ruhian), who raised him in isolation and trained Boy to become a warrior skilled in martial arts.

Boy does not talk out loud in the movie, so his inner thoughts are heard with the voice that he says was the voice of his favorite video game character. (H. Jon Benjamin does Boy’s voice in the movie.) Talent Digital Art has a free-to-play 2.5D fighting video game titled “Super Dragon Punch Force 3,” which is described in a press release as a “real world sequel inspired by the fictitious 2D fighting game franchise” depicted in “Boy Kills World.”) Even in the flashback scenes where Boy is literally a boy, his voiceover is that of an adult man.

Boy’s inner thoughts show that he can be self-deprecating and frequently sarcastic. Boy says of the city that he left behind when he was rescued by Shaman: “This was never a great city. Hilda Vander Koy took it from us. She has a list of all of her enemies. If you’re on it, she’ll find you.” Boy adds, “Hilda took everything from me. And when I become the ultimate warrior, I’ll return the favor.”

Several scenes in “Boy Kills World” show that part of Shaman’s training includes blowing smoke from a hallucinogenic substance into Boy’s face. As a result, Boy often has psychedelic hallucinations. Boy says early on in the movie that there’s a state of being between reality and dreams. The visual effects for the psychedelia are among the more memorable aspects about this sensory overload film.

Boy frequently has visions of Mina appearing to him and talking to him and looking the same way since the last time he saw her. Boy and Mina had a very close and fun-loving relationship before their lives were torn apart. Even in his life as a vengeful warrior, Boy still gets teased and playful scolding from Mina, whom he sees as the only person in his life who truly made him happy.

During his vendetta quest, Boy encounters other members of the Van Der Koy family, including Hilda’s ruthless sister Melanie Van Der Koy (played by Michelle Dockery); Hilda’s arrogant brother Gideon Van Der Koy (played by Brett Gelman); and Melanie’s buffoonish husband Glen Van Der Koy (played Sharlto Copley), who is dominated by Melanie. (It says a lot that Glen took the Van Der Koy surname.)

The Van Der Koy family has a security chief named June27 (played by Jessica Rothe), and programmed assassin who wears a helmet and who might or might not be human. She has almost superhuman-like strength and becomes a formidable and elusive opponent to Boy. Meanwhile, Boy forms an alliance with two rebels: wisecracking Basho (played by Andrew Koji) and resourceful Bennie (played by Isaiah Mustafa), who both join in on the mayhem. Boy encounters many dangerous foes, leading to several brutal and bloody battles.

Skarsgård is quite skillful in combining the action and facial expressions required for this character who is supposed to be deaf and mute. Melanie the villain who is the most fun to watch in the movie, thanks to Dockery’s prickly performance. Janssen’s Hilda is a fairly generic and predictable villain, while Gideon and his bad jokes quickly become annoying.

“Boy Kills World” is by no means an intellectual movie, but some of the quips are amusing enough to keep most viewers entertained. One of the movie’s plot twists is very predictable, while other plot twists are not as easy to predict. The movie’s most surprising “reveal” has some imagination, which saves “Boy Kills World” from being just another violent action flick that’s a checklist of death and destruction.

Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate will release “Boy Kills World” in U.S. cinemas on April 26, 2024. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on May 28, 2024.

Review: ‘Knights of the Zodiac’ (2023), starring Mackenyu, Famke Janssen, Madison Iseman, Diego Tinoco, Mark Dacascos, Nick Stahl and Sean Bean

May 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mackenyu in “Knights of the Zodiac” (Photo by David Lukacs/ Stage 6 Films and Toei Animation)

“Knights of the Zodiac” (2023)

Directed by Tomek Baginski

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world, the fantasy action flick “Knights of the Zodiac” (based on Masami Kurumada’s manga series “Saint Seiya”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) portraying humans and beings with mystical powers.

Culture Clash: A teenage street fighter, who is looking for his missing sister, finds out that he has mystical superpowers, and he gets caught up in a war between saints while he is assigned to protect Greek goddess Athena, who has been reincarnated as an American teenager named Sienna.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of people who are fans of the “Knights of the Zodiac” franchise, this live-action “Knights of the Zodiac” movie will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind seeing boring and poorly made fantasy action films.

Famke Janssen and Diego Tinoco in “Knights of the Zodiac” (Photo by David Lukacs/ Stage 6 Films and Toei Animation)

“Knights of the Zodiac” is an example of everything wrong when a manga-based anime TV series turns into a horribly acted live-action movie that will make even die-hard fans cringe. The action scenes are sloppily staged and dull. The non-action scenes are even more tedious. There are bad video games that are more entertaining than this boring flop.

Directed by Tomek Baginski, “Knights of the Zodiac” is based on Masami Kurumada’s manga series “Saint Seiya,” which has been turned into the short-lived 1986 anime TV series “Knights of the Zodiac” and the spinoff series “Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya,” which launched in 2019. Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Kiel Murray wrote this live-action movie version of “Knights of the Zodiac,” which was changed to be centered on Western culture.

Unfortunately, everything about this “Knights of the Zodiac” movie looks like it was given to filmmakers who cared more about the visual effects than crafting a good story. Even the visual effects look cheap and tacky, even though it’s obvious that these effects were a major part of the movie’s multimillion-dollar production budget. But no money in the world can buy natural charisma, which is lacking among the most of cast members in this shoddily made film.

In the “Knights of the Zodiac” movie, a street fighter named Seiya (played by Mackenyu) , who’s in his late teens, makes money by participating in illegal, underground fights in an unnamed part of the United States. During one of these fights with a thug named Cassios (played by Nick Stahl), Seiya finds out that he has mystical powers, and he defeats a humiliated Cassios. “This ain’t over,” snarls Cassios.

During this “mystical power” discovery scene, Seiya is shown with glowing angel wings sprouting out of his back. It’s one of many tacky-looking visual effects in the movie. The action scenes also have choppy editing that make the movie look even more disjointed than it needed to be.

After this fight, Seiya is abducted by a wealthy retired businessman named Alman Kido (played by Sean Bean) and Alman’s most trusted henchman Mylock (played by Mark Dacascos), who bring Seiya on a private jet to Alman’s home. It’s where Seiya meets Alman’s adopted daughter Sienna (played by Madison Iseman), who is 18 years old and the reincarnation of Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom.

Alman has kidnapped Seiya because he found out about Seiya’s special powers. After the fight, Cassios also called someone and said, “I think I found one of your cosmos.” Get used to hearing the words “cosmo” and “cosmos” repeated many times in the movie. In the world of “Knights of the Zodiac,” a cosmo is the life force that gives power to gods, goddesses and warriors. Alman is looking for a special person to protect Sienna.

Alman’s ex-wife owns a recruitment operation to have her own private army. Her name is Vander Guraad (played by Famke Janssen), who goes by the name Guraad, and she’s the chief villain of the story. Seiya obviously doesn’t want to be held captive by Alman, who tells Seiya that Seiya is a safer with Alman than with Guraad. “She’s already killed many kids,” Alman tells Seiya. Guraad’s sidekick is a smirking pretty boy named Nero (played by Diego Tinoco), who always looks like he’s on his way to a modeling shoot instead of a shoot-out with enemies.

Seiya is told that it’s his destiny to protect Sienna, who explains to Seiya that she has not turned into the goddess Athena yet because Sienna still hasn’t found her cosmo. Seiya is reluctant to be involved in this unusual and dysfunctional family feud because he’s got his own family to worry about: specifically, his younger sister Patricia, also known as Pat, who has gone missing. Seiya believes that Patricia has been kidnapped.

The rest of “Knights of the Zodiac” is a mind-numbing slog of awkward acting, bad jokes and unimaginative action scenes. Seiya receives training from a masked Silver Knight named Marin (played by Caitlin Hutson and Katie Moy), a red-haired warrior who wears a creepy full-face mask that looks like something out of a “Purge” horror movie. “Knights of the Zodiac” also has a weird, disconnected-sounding voice for Marin that makes her sound like a faraway robot.

Everything about “Knights of the Zodiac” looks fake and unconvincing, including the budding romance between Seiya and Sienna. The more experienced cast members fare a little better in trying to make the horrible screenplay into something entertaining, but the less-experienced cast members (who are also the least-talented members of the cast) get most of the screen time. Mackenyu’s acting is especially wooden and is very hard to watch. He definitely needs more acting lessons before he can be considered a worthy headliner for other big-budget films.

The ending of “Knights of the Zodiac” makes it obvious that the movie studio plans to continue this live-action movie series. But this “Knights of the Zodiac” movie is such a colossal flop, any more sequels with the same filmmaking team and cast members would be like repeating the same foolish mistakes. Only a complete overhaul for a rebooted remake could redeem how this “Knights of the Zodiac” abomination is such an embarrassing flop in the franchise.

Stage 6 Films will release “Knights of the Zodiac” in select U.S. cinemas on May 12, 2023.

Review: ‘Redeeming Love,’ starring Abigail Cowen, Tom Lewis, Nina Dobrev, Logan Marshall-Green, Eric Dane and Famke Janssen

February 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis in “Redeeming Love” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Redeeming Love”

Directed by D.J. Caruso

Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston in 1835, and in San Francisco in the 1850s, the dramatic film “Redeeming Love” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman who was sold into prostitution when she was 8 years old meets a religious man who wants to marry her and turn her into a “righteous woman.”

Culture Audience: “Redeeming Love” will appeal mainly to people who like watching tawdry and sexist movies that preach that “sinful” women need religious men to save them.

Abigail Cowen and Eric Dane in “Redeeming Love” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Redeeming Love” is a tacky soap opera masquerading as a faith-based movie. The movie’s sexist and awfully preachy message is that an abused woman can overcome child rape, forced prostitution and incest if a religious man falls in love with her. It’s ironic that a movie that’s supposed to be about redemption has no redeeming qualities in how relentlessly tone-deaf and irresponsible it is in filmmaking and in depicting traumatic issues.

“Redeeming Love” (heinously written and directed by D.J. Caruso) makes all of its female characters exist for the sole purpose of fulfilling men’s fantasies. Even the so-called “love story” at the center of the movie is about a saintly man who wants his fantasy fulfilled of having his prostitute “dream girl” becoming his religious and dutiful wife. It’s obvious that the “Redeeming Love” filmmakers don’t want viewers to expect any other outcome.

Caruso adapted the “Redeeming Love” screenplay from Francine Rivers’ 1991 novel of the same name. Filmmakers who turn a book into a movie have the freedom to set the tone of the movie and make cinematic changes that are different from the book. The filmmakers of “Redeeming Love” (with Caruso at the helm) chose to make the female protagonist a mostly pathetic lost soul whose life can only be turned around if she just lets a religious man love her.

The “woman who needs saving” is named Angel (played by Abigail Cowen), who is the most popular prostitute at a San Francisco brothel called Pair-A-Dice. (“Redeeming Love” was actually filmed in South Africa.) The movie, which takes place over several years, opens in 1850 with a scene at Pair-A-Dice, where about 50 dirty and disheveled Gold Rush miners have gathered outside near the front porch for a lottery. It’s not an ordinary lottery. The winner whose number is chosen will get guaranteed time the next day with 23-year-old Angel, who is so in-demand, she doesn’t have time to “service” all the men who want to hire her.

The Pair-A-Dice’s cruel and greedy manager/madam, who only goes by the name Duchess (played by Famke Janssen), proudly oversees this lottery because she knows that Angel is the sex worker who makes the most money for the brothel. At different times in the movie, Duchess is seen physically abusing her young female employees, or ordering her henchmen to inflict abuse if she thinks these sex workers are being insubordinate. Duchess won’t pass up the chance to make money any way that she can from the brothel’s demanding customers.

Duchess makes this announcement to the crowd of men who have eagerly gathered to see Angel: “She’s done shagging for the day. She’s all worn out. I have plenty of other girls—Chinese, African, Spanish—dealer’s choice. But if you want Angel, you’ll have to come back tomorrow. And by guess or by gully, it’ll be your lucky day!” Get used to this type of cringeworthy dialogue in “Redeeming Love,” which is a cesspool of idiotic filmmaking.

Angel is not a “hooker with a heart of gold,” because she’s supposed to be “redeemed,” remember? Instead, Angel is very bitter and angry about her life. She can’t picture herself as anything but a jaded prostitute.

An early scene in the movie shows Angel and some of her co-workers talking about their unhappy and abusive childhoods. An Irish woman named Lucky (played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) goes into details about being beaten as a child. Mai Ling (played by Ke-Xi Wu), who is originally from China, says that her father sold her into prostitution.

Flashbacks to Angel’s childhood reveal how she ended up as a sex worker for most of her life so far. Angel’s birth name is Sarah Stafford. The movie flashes back to 1835, when Sarah (played by Livi Birch) was an 8-year-old living in Boston with her single mother Mae (played by Nina Dobrev), who is an outcast in this society because she is an unmarried woman with an illegitimate child.

Sarah’s biological father is wealthy Alex Stafford (played by Josh Taylor), who is married to another woman. It’s implied that Sarah was born from an extramarital affair. Alex doesn’t want to publicly claim Sarah as his child, but he has been sending money and gifts to Mae. He wants Mae, not Sarah, to have the money and gifts.

One day, something happens that has never happened before: Sarah meets Alex for the first time, when he comes over to visit Mae. Mae introduces Sarah and Alex to each other, with a look of hope and apprehension. At first, the meeting is cordial but awkward.

But the meeting turns sour when Alex finds out that Mae took the money he had sent and spent it on Sarah, who also got the gifts that were originally intended for Mae. Alex becomes enraged and begins physically assaulting Mae and verbally degrading her. Sarah witnesses this abuse, including when Alex shouts at Mae that he never wanted Sarah to be born and that Mae should have terminated the pregnancy.

Another flashback reveals that Mae eventually died of an unnamed illness when Sarah was 8. Sarah, who is now considered to be an orphan, ends up in the custody of a sleazy man named John Altman (played by Willie Watson), who tries to get a woman named Sally (played by Tanya van Graan) to agree to take care of Sarah, but Sally refuses. John then tries to sell Sarah to a ruthless Irish criminal named Duke (played by Eric Dane, doing a terrible Irish accent), who runs a brothel where girls are held as sex slaves.

Duke doesn’t just kidnap Sarah. He also orders his henchman Colin to murder John as soon as John brings an innocent Sarah to Duke. One of the first things that Duke says to Sarah after she becomes his captive is that she’s now going to be his “wife.” Disgusting. This is the scene where viewers find out that Duke is a pedophile. Another scene reveals that Duke rapes the girls who are held in his captivity and who are prostituted out to other men.

The movie eventually reveals that Sarah ended up in San Francisco because she ran away from Duke. But is it the last time she sees Duke? Of course not, because he never stopped looking for her, and this movie is filled with sordid melodrama. Duke eventually ends up in San Francisco in the 1850s. He still keeps underage girls as sex slaves. And you can predict the rest, including what happens to Duke.

It might come as a surprise that for all of its disturbing subject matter, “Redeeming Love” is actually not a movie with a rating that recommends a minimum age of 17 for appropriate viewing. It’s actually been rated as appropriate for kids who are at least 13 years old. That’s because there’s no nudity in the movie. And the movie’s sex scenes are very tame.

Still, any parents who decide to let their underage kids watch “Redeeming Love” should know that this is not a wholesome movie at all. There’s a scene where an adult Sarah/Angel ends up having her father Alex as a sex customer. He doesn’t know that she’s his daughter, but she knows exactly who she is. He only knows her as Angel, and he tells her that she looks familiar.

However, Angel/Sarah still doesn’t reveal to him that she’s his abandoned daughter, and she deliberately has sex with him. (This incestuous sex is not shown in the movie, but it is openly discussed.) After Alex finds out the horrible truth, he commits suicide. Based on Sarah’s reaction (she seems happy that her father committed suicide), it’s implied that Angel/Sarah knowingly committed this act of incest for revenge and with the hope that it would lead to her father killing himself.

The incest in this movie might be considered spoiler information for people who don’t want to know about any surprises in the movie’s plot. However, it’s important for viewers to know in advance how this so-called “faith-based” movie has some morally twisted subject matter whose only purpose is to make Angel/Sarah look as trashy as possible. It’s one thing to be a victim of child abuse, which is not the victim’s fault. It’s another thing to be an adult and try to get a parent to commit suicide by knowingly having sex with the parent. It’s absolutely reprehensible.

But if Angel weren’t so “morally bankrupt,” then it wouldn’t make her “male rescuer” look as noble. Michael Hosea (played by Tom Lewis) is a 26-year-old farmer who is first seen in the movie when he’s praying alone in a church and asking God to find him a romantic partner/future wife. “Maybe she likes fishing,” Michael says out loud as he prays. “Maybe she has long legs. You know the kind I need. I trust you,” Michael adds, as if God is in the mail-order bride business.

When Michael first sees Angel in a horse-drawn carriage on the street, it’s “love at first sight” for him. He tells a friend who’s with him that he just saw the woman he’s going to marry. When the friend tells Michael that Angel works at the Pair-A-Dice brothel, Michael is undeterred. It’s at that moment that Michael decides he’s going to “save” Angel.

The movie makes a big deal out of reminding viewers that Michael is a humble and poor farmer. But somehow, Michael has enough money to visit Angel several times, in an effort to court her and get her to marry him. He refuses to have sex with her during these visits, even though Angel offers sex to him as part of the transaction. Michael tells Angel that he doesn’t want to have sex with her until she falls in love with him.

The rest of “Redeeming Love” is a horrendous slog of the ups and downs of Michael and Angel’s relationship. There’s a time-wasting subplot involving Michael’s widower brother-in-law Paul Atherton (played by Logan Marshall-Green), who was married to Michael’s sister Tess, who died in 1847, when she was 21. Paul doesn’t approve of Angel being in Michael’s life. Guess who used to be a customer of Angel’s before Michael met her?

There’s also some tedious drama about fertility that comes to the forefront when a family called the Altmans end up visiting Michael’s farm. This clan includes John Altman (played by Willie Watson), his pregnant wife Elizabeth (played by Lauren McGregor), and their two daughters: Miriam (played by Tayah Ronen Abels), who’s about 14 or 15, and Ruthie (played by Tayah Ronen Abels), who’s about 10 or 11.

The performances in “Redeeming Love” are tonally off-kilter. Some of the cast members ham it up too much with their acting, while others seem bored. Cowen and Lewis (who makes his feature-film debut in “Redeeming Love”) have zero chemistry together as Angel and Michael. Angel is depicted as a fickle and flaky heartbreaker, while Michael is “too good to be true.” The filmmakers clearly want Michael to get most of the sympathy from viewers, even though Angel is the one who’s had the much harder life of being abused and exploited.

Everything about this movie is extremely condescending to women, to the point where it comes across as misogynistic. The female characters with the biggest speaking roles and the most screen time in “Redeeming Love” are involved in prostitution, when there should be a wider variety of women in the movie. That’s an example of Caruso’s sexist writing and directing for this film. “Redeeming Love” is trying to pretend that it’s an epic love story, but it’s really just epic trash.

Universal Pictures released “Redeeming Love” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022. The movie is set to premiere on Peacock on March 7, 2022.

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