Review: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,’ starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Winston Duke and Martin Freeman

November 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Letitia Wright in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Some language in French and Yucatec with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Earth, the superhero action film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, Latino and white) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: After the death of King T’Challa, the fictional African nation of Wakanda becomes under siege from various factions, including the secret underwater kingdom of Talokan, that want Wakanda’s help in obtaining the precious metal vibranium. 

Culture Audience: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Black Panther” franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and superhero movies that include multiculturalism issues.

Tenoch Huerta Mejía in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

In more ways than one, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” shows how healing from a tragedy can turn into a triumph. This top-notch sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther” is an epic story of grief, loyalty, greed and the resilience of the human spirit. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” should more than satisfy fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and will inspire repeat viewings. Do people need to see “Black Panther” before seeing “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”? No, but it certainly helps, especially in understanding the backgrounds of the characters who have the most poignant moments in this sequel.

Directed by Ryan Coogler (who co-wrote the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” screenplay with Joe Robert Cole), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” puts the women of the fictional African nation of Wakanda in the front and center of a story that also pays respectful tribute to Wakanda’s deceased King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman in 2018’s “Black Panther.” Coogler directed and co-wrote (with Cole) the first “Black Panther” movie, which helps in keeping a consistent tone for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

The beginning of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” shows King T’Challa’s younger sister Princess Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) frantically trying to find a medical solution to save T’Challa, who is dying from an unnamed illness. (Boseman tragically died of colon cancer in 2020. He was 43.) All of Shuri’s efforts don’t work, and T’Challa passes away.

The people of Wakanda have an elaborate funeral for T’Challa that includes mourning his death and celebrating his life. Everyone is dressed in white for this event. At the end of the funeral, T’Challa’s casket floats up into the sky. As explained in the first “Black Panther” movie and in Marvel’s “Black Panther” comic books, Wakanda is a self-sufficient nation that is somewhat of a utopia and where supernatural things can occur. Wakanda is protected by an all-female army called the Dora Milaje.

One year after T’Challa’s death, Shuri and her mother Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) are grieving, but Shuri has had a more diffcult time trying to move on with her life. Shuri is a genius scientist who blames herself for not being able to find a medical cure that could have saved T’Challa. Much of Shuri’s storyline in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has to do with Shuri’s grief and other traumatic things she experiences in the movie.

Meanwhile, Queen Ramonda has to contend with pressure from different entities that want Wakanda’s help in finding vibranium, a rare metal that has the power to harness kinetic energy. An early scene in the movie shows a regal and confident Ramonda at a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, one year after T’Challa’s death. During this meeting with world leaders, Ramonda is told that the United States is disappointed that Wakanda has not shared resources in the quest to find vibranium.

However, Wakanda (a self-sufficient nation that is somewhat of a utopia) has a policy not to get involved in other nations’ politics, and Ramonda reiterates that fact. She also has members of Dora Milaje bring in some captives: several men who tried to invade one of Wakanda’s member facilities that handles vibranium. A flashback shows how members of the Dora Milaje captured these invaders. Ramonda’s sternly tells the assembled officials that she knows that a member state of the United Nations was probably behind this attack, and this capture serves as an “olive branch” warning for this attack not to happen on Wakanda again.

Meanwhile, a U.S. ship in the Atlantic Ocean has been looking for vibranium underwater. The ship then experiences something unexpected and bizarre. Crew members of the ship seem to go into a daze and start jumping off of the ship to their death. And then, a group of blue-skinned people rise out of the ocean and attack the ship. The attackers’ leader is dressed like a Mayan king and has wings on his feet that allow him to fly. Viewers later find out that his name is Namor (played Tenoch Huerta Mejía), and he’s the ruler of Talokan, a hidden nation under the sea.

One evening, back in Wakanda, Ramonda and Shuri have a heart-to-heart talk on a beach. Ramonda is concerned about Shuri’s emotional well-being because Shuri seems to be deeply depressed. Shuri tries to brush off her mother’s concerns. Ramonda says she has a secret about T’Challa that she wants to tell Shuri. But just as she’s about to tell Shuri, Namor appears out of the water.

Namor is not there to pay a friendly visit. He essentially tells Ramonda and Shuri that Talokan needs Wakanda’s help to defend themselves from extinction and to get vibranium. If Wakanda refuses to help, Talokan will declare war on the world, and Wakanda will be Talokan’s first target. A stunned Ramonda tells Namor that Wakanda does not get involved in other people’s wars and refuses to give in to his demand. Namor leaves and ominously says that he will return in one week.

Meanwhile, CIA operative Everett K. Ross (played by Martin Freeman) reprises his role from 2018’s “Black Panther.” Everett is an ally to Wakanda but he gets into conflicts about it with higher-ranking agent Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who is pressuring Wakanda to cooperate with the U.S. government to find vibranium. Valentina (who communicates with a brittle, sarcastic tone) has another, more personal connection to Everett that is revealed in the movie.

Also reprising their roles from “Blank Panther” are Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), the courageous leader of the Dora Milaje; Ayo (played by Florence Kasumba), a powerful enforcer of the Dora Milaje; M’Baku (played by Winston Duke), the leader of Jabariland, Wakanda’s isolated region known for its snow and mountains; and Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o), who is the best spy in Wakanda’s history and T’Challa’s former love partner. New to the Dora Milaje team is Aneka (played by Michaela Coel), a high-ranking member.

During the course of the story, Shuri and Okoye travel to Haiti, where viewers find out that Nakia has been living for the past six years. In Haiti, Nakia has been working as a teacher of children in elementary school. Shuri and Okoye have to plead with Nakia to come back to Wakanda to help them, but Nakia is very reluctant to go back. Why did Nakia leave Wakanda? And why is Nakia reluctant to go back? Those questions are answered in the movie.

Wakanda also has another ally, who finds herself involved in this brewing war through no choice of her own. Her name is Riri Williams (played by Dominique Thorne), a brilliant 19-year-old MIT student and aspiring scientist. Riri and Shuri are thrown together in circumstances where they have to learn to work together. Riri is sometimes overwhelmed by the danger that comes her way, but she can be counted on to come up with helpful ideas. She has a sassy personality that is the comic relief in the movie.

Meanwhile, Namor has been assembling his own troops to prepare for war. His two main sidekicks are Talokan’s strongest warrior Attuma (played by Alex Livinalli) and Talokan’s most fearless warrior Namora (played by Mabel Cadena), who have unwavering loyalty to Talokan and their leader, Namor. At one point in the movie, viewers find out more about Talokan and Namor’s backstory to explain why he is on such a brutal revenge mission.

“Black Panther” won Academy Awards for its production design (led by Hannah Beachler) and its costume design (led by Ruth E. Carter), with Beachler and Carter both leading the same teams for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The production design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is even more elaborate and awe-inspiring, particularly in how Talokan was designed. (It looks like an underwater Mayan paradise inspired by Atlantis.) The costume design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is also Oscar-worthy, although many of the Dora Milaje costumes are understandably the same or similar to as they were in “Black Panther.”

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has better visual effects than “Black Panther.” The cinematography is also an improvement over the first “Black Panther” movie, particularly when it comes to the scenes in Talokan and some of the camera angles during the fight scenes. Every action sequence looks believable, given the characters’ superpowers. But all of these dazzling components to the film would be wasted if the story wasn’t compelling and the acting performances weren’t up to par.

Shuri becomes the heart and soul of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” as she comes to terms with T’Challa’s death; faces doubts and moral dilemmas about where he should put her loyalties; and sometimes clashes with her strong-willed mother Ramonda on decision to make about Wakanda’s future. Wright gives a standout performance in having to convey a wide myriad of emotions of someone who is the heir to the throne but has inner and exterior conflicts about her leadership, while living in the shadow of T’Challa and his legacy.

Bassett is also noteworthy in her performance as Romanda, who has to find a way to reconcile her pain with a possible new direction for Wakanda. Huerta Mejía a gives solid performance as the movie’s villain, who is alternately stoic and filled with rage. Namor isn’t the most fearsome villain of the MCU, but his backstory will make viewers see that underneath his anger is a lot of personal pain and pride for his people.

Because of the real-life death of Boseman, there are expected tearjerking moments when the movie shows flashbacks of T’Challa. There’s also the brief return of another major character from the first “Black Panther” movie, with the character appearing to Shuri in a vision. A mid-credits scene (there is no end-credits scene) in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” shines a bright light of hope for the future of Wakanda, but it’s with a bittersweet tone that T’Challa is immensely beloved and will always be missed.

Marvel Studios will release “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in U.S. cinemas on November 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Thank God’ (2022), starring Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra

October 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sid Malhotra in “Thank God” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Thank God” (2022)

Directed by Indra Kumar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in India and in heaven, the comedy/drama/fantasy film “Thank God” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting into a car accident that leaves him unconscious and near death, a selfish real-estate agent’s spirit is transported to heaven, where he must pass a series of tests to determine if he will go to heaven or hell after he dies.

Culture Audience: “Thank God” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra and stories about the afterlife, but this movie is neither clever nor interesting.

Ajay Devgn (center) and Sid Malhotra (far right) in “Thank God” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Thank God” is a fantasy film about the afterlife that puts schmaltz over substance. Much of the movie is set in heaven, but there’s nothing heavenly about the cloying manipulation and gimmicks in this feeble and clumsily constructed story. The movie crams in some very silly plot twists that further ruin what could have been an intriguing story about life after death and redemption.

Directed by Indra Kumar, “Thank God” is a remake of the 2009 Danish comedy film “Sorte Kugler” (which means “what goes around” in Danish) and follows the same basic concept, but “Thank God” changes the deity characters to those from the Hindu religion. Aakash Kaushik and Madhur Sharma co-wrote the unimaginative “Thank God” adapted screenplay. The movie has scenes that take place in India and a location described in the movie as heaven.

In the beginning of “Thank God,” which takes place in 2018, Ayaan Kapoor (played by Sid Malhotra) is a 33-year-old real-estate agent who has fallen on hard times. He used to be a hotshot, successful agent. But he lost his fortune due to the Indian government’s demonetization of currency. Ayaan is now in debt to 16 crores, which is about $140,000 U.S. dollars in 2018.

Ayaan wants to sell his house, which has not yet found a buyer. In the meantime, Ayaan and his wife Ruhi Kapoor (played by Rakul Preet Singh) and their daughter Pihu Kapoor (played by Kiara Khanna), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, have moved into the house owned by Ruhi’s family until Ayaan can get back to the financial status that he used to have. Ayaan and Ruhi (who is a police officer) had a whirlwind, romantic courtship. But lately, the marriage has been strained because of Ayaan’s financial problems and because of his arrogant and workaholic ways.

Ayaan’s money problems have not humbled him or made him re-evaluate his life. He is still the same conceited real-estate agent who makes his work a higher priority than his family. In some ways, Ayaan has become even more ruthless, self-centered and ill-tempered than before his financial crisis, since he’s determined to never lose his fortune again. As an example of how cold-hearted Ayaan is, when he walks by a poor, elderly woman begging for money on the street, he doesn’t just ignore her. He’s very rude to her when refusing to give her any money.

During a real-estate deal that Ayaan hopes to close, a married couple is close to buying a house that Ayaan is selling. The spouses tell Ayaan that they are buying the house for their adopted son Chiku (who’s about 5 or 6 years old), so that the Chiku can inherit it when he becomes an adult. Chiku is waiting outside the house when Ayaan congratulates him on having wonderful adoptive parents.

Chiku begins crying because he tells Ayaan that he didn’t know that he was adopted. A panicked Ayaan doesn’t want Chiku to tell the parents that Ayaan disclosed this secret to Chiku, so he locks Chicku in the house’s bathroom and plans to keep Chiku in there until the parents sign the paperwork to close the deal. However, the parents notice that Chiku is missing, and they start to look for him. Ayaan acts like he doesn’t know anything about the child’s disappearance.

Meanwhile, Chiku has snuck out of the bathroom window and goes in the room where his parents and Ayaan are talking. Chiku starts wailing again and tells his parents everything that happened. Needless to say, the parents get angry and don’t do the deal with Ayaan. This is the type of comedic scene that could have been funny, but the substandard acting in the movie just makes everything seem so silly and trite.

Ayaan has a real-estate deal in his not-too-distant past that also brought unhappiness, for different reasons. A couple named Mr. and Mrs. Gaikwad bought a bungalow for 150 million rupees (about $1.8 million U.S. dollars in 2018), but the spouses are now been forced to sell the home because of financial problems. Ayaan wants to buy the bungalow for himself and his family, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Gaiwad will be losing their home to him. Ayaan’s decision on how to deal with the couple’s problem comes back to haunt him.

In the meantime, Ayaan is upset that he lost out on this most recent real-estate deal because of his extreme way of trying to silence an innocent child. Aayan calls Ruhi on hs phone while he’s driving to complain about losing the deal and to let her know that he won’t be able to attend the Parent Teachers Association meeting for their daughter Pihu. Aayan is holding his phone in one hand while he’s driving. And you know what that means: He gets into a car accident when he takes his eyes off the road and crashes into another car.

The next thing that Ayaan knows, he’s been transported to a mystical-looking place that can best be described as a floating amphitheater, with spectators who are dressed all in white. Ayaan is escorted to a stage in the middle of this amphiteater. Ayaan’s guide to this stage is someone calling himself YD (played by Mahesh Balraj), also known as Yamdhoot, who is a Yamaduta, a Hindu messenger of death. YD introduces a confused Ayaan to someone named CG (played by Ajay Devgn), who is supposed to be the Hindu deity Chitragupta.

CG explains to Ayaan that Ayaan is in heaven, and Ayaan’s unconscious body is currently on Earth, where Ayaan is in a hospital undergoing an operation for the next five hours because of his car accident. CG shows Ayaan a vision of Ayaan in the operating room. In the meantime, CG says that Ayaan will have to play the Game of Life to determine if Ayaan will go to heaven or go to hell if he dies in the hospital.

Ayaan refuses to play this game at first, but CG shows Ayaan a preview of what life in hell looks like. (The movie has very outdated-looking and unconvincing visual effects.) Ayaan quickly changes his mind when he sees the terrifying existence he would have in hell. At the same time, Ayaan’s hubris makes him think that whatever game he plays, he’s going to win.

In this game, Ayaan has to take several challenges based on each of his biggest flaws. Two see-through cylinders (each about 10 feet tall) are placed on the stage. If Ayaan loses a challenge, the spectators throw black balls into the cylinders. If Ayaan wins a challenge, the spectators throw white balls into the cylinders. Ayaan will lose the game if both cylinders overflow with black balls.

The six challenges based on Ayaan’s personality flaws are essentially variations of Christianity’s seven deadly sins, except for the sin of sloth, which doesn’t apply to workaholic Ayaan. The six rounds that Ayaan goes through to complete the game have to do with his anger, greed, jealousy, pride, lust and deception. In each round, Ayaan is put in a simulated reality scenario, and he has to decide what to do when a particular personality flaw is tested.

For example, in the round where his anger is tested, Ayaan is stuck in an elevator with an irritating, talkative man who keeps doing things to delay the elevator from moving. In the round where Ayaan’s jealousy is tested, CG reveals to the crowd that Ayaan wanted to become a police officer when Ayaan was a child, so Ayaan is secretly jealous that his wife Ruhi is a police officer who recently got a job promotion. In this challenge, Ayaan is given a chance to be a police officer during an armed robbery of bank, where the bank robber is holding hostages.

“Thank God” aims to impart serious messages about ethics and morality, but the comedy is awkwardly placed and cheapens all of the movie’s moralistic preaching. The slapstick comedy just isn’t very clever. And all of the cast members turn in performances that range from mediocre to embarrassingly exaggerated. Nora Fatehi has a supporting role as Reema, a gold-digging temptress who sets out to seduce Ayaan in his “lust” challenge round, which is just an excuse to have the movie’s most extravagant song-and-dance sequence.

The movie becomes more and more ridiculous with sudden plot twists that look like the filmmakers didn’t really know how to end the movie and just threw in lot of ideas to try to make the conclusion look impactful. It all just looks like a jumbled heap of mushy stereotypes instead of a cohesive story. The last 15 minutes of the film are particularly sloppy.

Several movies have already covered existential topics of humanity that ask these questions: “What happens to people after they die?” and “Do the actions of people when they’re alive affect what happens to people after death?” Most religious teachings have some basis in trying to answer these questions.

Because many films have covered these well-worn topics, “Thank God” had an opportunity to present a unique and intriguing angle to these topics. Instead, “Thank God” took the laziest route, by serving up a stale story that doesn’t really entertain audiences but just insults audiences by pandering to over-used and predictable clichés. If any viewers who believe in a god decide to watch the horrific “Thank God” until the very end, they might be thinking at the end of the movie: “Thank God this mess is finally over.”

T-Series Films released “Thank God” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 25, 2022.

Review: ‘The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins,’ starring Rin Kijima, Saya Fukunaga, Mariya Suzuki, Munehiro Yoshida, Donpei Tsuchihira, Moro Morooka, Yûki Meguro and the voice of Fumihiko Tachiki

October 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rin Kijima in “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Releasing)

“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins”

Directed by Hiroshi Akabane

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tokyo, the Japanese fantasy film “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” features an all-Japanese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Three teenage girls perform an occult ritual to conjure a spiritual warrior named Master Salt, and the four of them go from place to place to try and solve people’s problems.

Culture Audience: “The Divine Protector” will appeal primarily to people who like fantasy films and have a high tolerance for low-quality filmmaking.

Saya Fukunaga, Hikaru Hoshino and Kokoro Nishiwaki in “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Releasing)

The fantasy film “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” has some of the worst acting, dialogue and visual effects you could ever see. The constant, annoying preachiness is sometimes offensive, such as when the so-called hero inflicts victim shaming on a domestic violence survivor. This movie is complete garbage.

Heinously directed by Hiroshi Akabane and atrociously written by Sayaka Okawa, “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is a one-note movie that keeps pounding that note until the movie wears out its welcome about 20 minutes into this two-hour trash dump of horrible filmmaking. It’s very rare to see a movie where every single person in the cast turns in a truly cringeworthy performance. But all of this horrible acting is there on excruciating display. You’ve been warned.

The very thin plot of “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (which takes place in Tokyo) is repeated in four different scenarios, which basically means that the screenplay is very lazy. The movie starts off by showing Nanako Igarashi (played by Saya Fukunaga), who is about 15 or 16 years old, placing flowers on the grave of Masako Hojo. She then goes to Kamaura Temple and prays.

Nanako is a second-year student at Kamono Girls’ High School in Tokyo, where her two best friends are classmates Rino Otaki (played by Hikaru Hoshino) and Miki Hishimo (played by Kokoro Nishiwaki). The three pals have formed a club called the Occult Study Group, and they apparently have a room at the school all to themselves for their meetings with no adult supervision. (Don’t expect this movie to be realistic.)

Nanako is certain that someone is watching her and that she is cursed. And then one day, she faints at her desk in a classroom. Rino and Miki later show Nanako a phone photo that they took of Nanako when she was unconscious on the floor. To Nanako’s horror, she sees that there are hand strangulation marks on her neck. The three friends decide to conjure up a spirit to find out what is happening to Nanako.

“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is supposed to be a faith-based movie celebrating divine spirits, but it’s very bizarre that this movie has three girls using satanic symbols as part of their rituals to conjure a divine spirit. For example, when they conjure up the spirit, it’s in a pentagram, where they put a wish in an envelope and burn it at the center of the pentagram. This ritual brings forth a spirtual entity who calls herself Master Salt (played very stiffly by Rin Kijima), whose real name is Shioko Kimono. Master Salt/Shioko Kimono is supposed to be hundreds of years old and has a past connection to the Kamono Girls’ High School that is revealed in the movie.

Master Salt confirms Nanako’s suspicion that Nanako has been cursed. Master Salt says that Nanako is cursed with an ikiryo, or living ghost, which is a manifestation of a negative emotion that invades someone’s body. Master Salt then forces the living ghost that is haunting Nanako to leave Nanajo’s body. (The living ghosts, which have cheap-looking visual effects, first appear as smoke and then solidify into looking like demons. Fumihiko Tachiki is the voice of a red demon named Akaoni.)

It’s how Nanako finds out that a classmate named Ai Kojima (played by Konomi Tsukamoto) has manifested herself as a living ghost to curse Nanako. Why? Because Ai is jealous that Nanako is doing better academically and socially in school than Ai, who is troubled loner. Ai is especially resentful because a schoolmate guy, whom Ai has a crush on, flirts with Nanako but can’t even remember Ai’s name. The living ghost version of Ai confesses to her jealousy and says she’s sorry. A flashback shows that this living ghost was responsible for Nanako’s fainting spell in the classroom.

After the curse is lifted from Nanako, she wants Master Salt to be her mentor. Master Salt only wants to be summoned when people are truly in need. And so, for the rest the movie, there are four anthology-like chapters where Nanako, Miki and Rino summon Master Salt when they want to help people who’ve been cursed with a living ghost.

Every time Master Salt forces a living ghost our of someone body and banishes it, she shouts, “Repel, Return, Protect!,” while she makes motions with her hands to simulate formulating the letter “z.” It’s all so corny and over-the-top, but it’s done with a self-important tone, as if this awful movie has no self-awareness and is taking itself way too seriously.

The four “lessons” in the movie are titled “Greed: Excessive Desires,” “Anger: Rage,” “Ignorance: Foolishness” and “Conceit: Arrogance.” It’s basically this movie’s version of Christianity’s Seven Deadly Sins. And each “chapter” has a good versus evil scenario, where Master Salt and her trio of fangirls come to the rescue. And every conjuring of the “living ghost” results in a confrontation/showdown.

In “Greed: Excessive Desires,” Rino’s widowed grandmother Yoshie Otaki (played by Kiyo Hasegawa) is the victim of a phone scam promising her a place in a nursing home that’s “immune” from COVID-19. As a result of the scam, Yoshie lost $30,000 from her savings. The con artist behind this fraud, which targets a lot of elderly people, is a cold-hearted and ruthless swindler named Nagasaki (played by Donpei Dohira), who thinks anyone who’s stupid enough to fall for his scam deserves to lose their money.

“Anger: Rage” is the most problematic of the four chapters. Miki lives in the same apartment building as an alcoholic businessman named Hideo Ito (played by Junichi Uchiura), who physically and emotionally abuses his wife Harumi Ito (played by Rina Sakuragi). Hideo and Harumi have two children—daughter Yuri (played by Honatsu Iwamoto), who’s about 5 years old, and son Taichi (played by Haruhito Saida), who’s about 3 years old—who both cower in fear when they see Hideo yell at and assault Harumi.

When Master Salt comes to the rescue, she punishes Hideo. But then, Master Salt also scolds Harumi by making this victim-shaming remark about the abuse that Harumi gets from Hideo: “You’re also at fault … Have you ever tried to understand his pain and comfort him? You brought this on yourself. You reap what you sow.”

It’s a horrendous and irredeemable part of the movie, which sends a terrible message that domestic violence victims are to blame for something that isn’t their fault. As if to justify this heinous lecture from Master Salt, the movie shows that Harumi sometimes loses her temper and yells at her children. And so, Harumi has been “cursed” with a living ghost and must repent too.

The chapter on “Ignorance: Foolishness” (which seems to be a curse that plagues this entire movie) is about a Meisho University professor named Toru Kitamura (played by Moro Morooka), whose specialty is plasma research. Professor Kitamura does a lot of yelling at his students if they don’t agree with his belief that fireballs come from plasma, not spirits. (He doesn’t believe in the paranormal.) Miki’s older brother Junta Hoshino (played by Ren Matsuoka), who’s a sophomore student at Meisho University, and a fellow Meisho Unversity student named Kana Mizuno (played by Mei Yamagishi) challenge Professor Kitamura’s opinions in class. The professor threatens to flunk Kana.

“Conceit: Arrogance” is the most soap-opera-like chapter in the movie. It’s about four people connected to a medical corporation called the Tendo Group: a self-centered playboy named Tendo Tsubasa (played by Munehiro Yoshi), who’s the heir to the Tendo Group; his father Mitsunori Tendo (played by Yuki Meguro), who is the founder/chairman of the Tendo Group; Sakura Kamijou (played by Mariya Suzuki), a TV host who gets the lusty attention of Tendo Tsubasa; and Reina Sasaki (played by Hikari Kiyose), a Tendo Group employee who gets sexually harassed by Tendo Tsubasa.

“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is the type of train wreck that some people will watch until the end, just to how bad this movie can be. And some viewers might get some amusement out of it. Most other viewers will have a difficult time sitting through this barrage of amateurish filmmaking until the very end. It’s the type of movie that feels like an assault on viewers’ intelligence.

And worst of all, the movie can’t even be “so bad, it’s entertaining.” Everything is just dreadfully dull, with no imagination or talent on display. It’s obvious that the filmmakers made “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” with a possibility that it would turn into a franchise. If people care about quality filmmaking, Master Salt and any other abominable movies about her need to be banished from the cinematic universe forever.

Freestyle Releasing released “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie was released in Japan on October 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Black Adam,’ starring Dwayne Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mohammed Amer and Bodhi Sabongui

October 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dwayne Johnson in “Black Adam” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Black Adam”

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional nation of Kahndaq and briefly in Louisiana, the superhero action film “Eternals” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Asian and African American) portraying superheroes and regular human beings.

Culture Clash: Reluctant superhero Teth Adam, later known as Black Adam, finds it difficult to change his vengeful and troublemaking ways, and he does battle against the Justice Society and a group of land pillagers called Intergang. 

Culture Audience: “Black Adam” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Dwayne Johnson and movies based on DC Comics, but the movie is a disappointing and unimaginative cinematic origin story for Black Adam.

Sarah Shahi and Pierce Brosnan in “Black Adam” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Black Adam” is nothing more than a mishmash of big-budget superhero clichés with empty dialogue, atrocious editing, a forgettable villain and a lackluster story. You know it’s bad when the mid-credits scene is what people will talk about the most. “Black Adam” (which is based on DC Comics characters and stories) is the type of misguided mess that tries to do too much and ends up not making much of impact at all. It’s one of the weakest movies in the DC Extended Universe.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Black Adam” could have been a thoroughly entertaining, epic superhero movie, based on the fact that charismatic Dwayne Johnson has the title role, and the movie has several talented cast members. (Johnson is also one of the movie’s producers.) But the “Black Adam” screenplay (written by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani) is a complete dud, with mindless conversations and stale jokes that look too forced.

It’s fair to say that people don’t watch superhero movies for super-intelligent dialogue, but even the action sequences in “Black Adam” are substandard. The visual effects are hit-and-miss and aren’t particularly impressive. And the choppy editing looks like something you might see in a beginner, low-budget film, not a movie that with experienced filmmakers and a bloated nine-figure production budget.

“Black Adam” begins in the year 2600 B.C. in the fictional kingdom of Kahndaq, which is supposed to be somewhere in the Middle East. The most valuable resource in Kahndaq is Eternium, which gives special magical powers to anyone in possession of Eternium. Needless to say, wars and crimes have been committed in the competition to get Eternium.

A mystical warrior named Teth Adam (played by Johnson), who has superpowers in strength and speed, is someone who experienced a tragedy as a result of this greed for Eternium. As a result, he went on vengeful crime sprees but was eventually imprisoned in the Rock of Eternity (which is a resource hub for magic), where he was entombed for 5,000 years. The legend of Teth Adam was passed on for generations.

In the present day, Kahndaq is now an economically struggling country that has been invaded by white Europeans looking to mine the land for Eternium. A villainous group called Intergang wreaks the most havoc in this quest for Eternium. Meanwhile, a group of rebel freedom fighters aiming to defeat Intergang will be hunted by members of Intergang.

What does this have to do with Black Adam? One of the leaders of the freedom fighters is named Adrianna Tomaz (played by Sarah Shahi), who ends up being captured with her brother Karim (played by Mo Amer), who is also a freedom fighter, while they are trying to get a magical crown. Their friend and colleague Ishmael (played by Marwan Kenzari) is also involved in tryng to get this crown.

While being held captive in a cave that ends up being where the Rock of Eternity is, Adrianna yells, “Shazam!” It’s the magical word that awakens Teth Adam, who breaks out of captivity from the tomb. Adrianna and Karim escape, but for a good deal of the movie, they are being chased by Intergang thugs. Will formerly imprisoned Adam help them?

Adrianna is a widowed mother of an adolsecent son named Amon Tomaz (played by Bodhi Sabongui), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. Without going into too many details, it’s enough to say that Teth Adam eventually meets Amon, Adrianna and Karim. Amon immediately is in awe of Adam, but Adam is less impressed with this family and doesn’t really want to get involved with the family’s Intergang problems, until certain circumstances lead Adam to be on the family’s side.

That entire storyline would be enough for one movie, but “Black Adam” crams in another storyline where Adam is at odds with a group of superheroes called Justice Society, which has reunited when it becomes known that Teth Adam is on the loose and causing damage again. Viola Davis has a cameo near the beginning of “Black Adam” to reprise her “Suicide Squad” character Amanda Waller, who makes a command that sets the Justice Society back in motion. There’s nothing special about any of the cast members’ acting, a lot of which looks “phoned in,” with no uniquely memorable flair.

The members of the Justice Society in the “Black Adam” movie are:

  • Carter Hall/Hawkman (played by by Aldis Hodge), a loyal and earnest warrior who has lived for thousands of years and has the flying skills of a hawk.
  • Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (played by Pierce Brosnan), a kind-hearted and grandfatherly archeologist who has the powers of a sorcerer.
  • Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher (played by Noah Centineo), a clumsy and goofy 20-year-old who can grow to the size of a skyscraper.
  • Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (played by Quintessa Swindell), a playful and courageous 19-year-old who has the power to use her mind to create cyclone-like gusts of wind.

Unfortunately, all of these Justice Society characters are written to have very generic personalities and extremely bland chemistry with each other. Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone in particular is very under-used and is more like a placeholder than an impactful, developed character. And some of the lines of dialogue they have to say are downright cringeworthy. More than once, Hawkman says to Doctor Fate: “A bad plan is better than no plan at all.” That sounds like the same attitude that the “Black Adam” filmmakers had in making this shoddy superhero movie.

Expect to see a lot of formulaic chase scenes, shootouts, explosions and all the usual stereotypes of superhero action flicks. “Black Adam” has some half-hearted preachiness about white colonialism in countries where most of the residents aren’t white, but this attempt to bring a “social consciousness” to “Black Adam” looks as phony as some of the movie’s often-unconvincing visual effects. Everything in the story is jumbled up and scatterbrained, as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide how to juggle the storylines of Adam being at odds with the Justice Society and Intergang. (The 2021 action flick “Jungle Cruise,” also directed by Collet-Serra and starring Johnson, had the same overstuffed story problem.)

Meanwhile, Teth Adam/Black Adam scowls and smashes his way throughout the movie like a bulldozer on autopilot. The teenage character of Amon is hyper and talkative to the point of annoyance. Amon’s uncle Karim is supposed to be the comic relief of the movie, but just ends up looking mostly like a buffoon. Adrianna is the voice of reason for the group of freedom fighters, but nothing stands out about this character’s personality. And when one of the movie’s heroes has an underage child, you know what that means when the villains want revenge.

And about those villains. One of the biggest failings of “Black Adam” is that none of these villains is particularly memorable. The “chief villain” battle at the end looks more like a video game than a cinematic experience. The best superhero movies have villains who make the type of scene-stealing impact that audiences talk about for years. “Black Adam” comes up very short on every level when it comes to unforgettable villainous characters.

What happens in the mid-credits scene of “Black Adam” has already been widely reported, but it won’t be detailed in this review. It’s enough to say that it involves another DC Comics superhero and how that superhero might interact with Black Adam. It’s never a good sign when a movie’s main character and story are so underwhelming, it’s upstaged by the sudden appearance of another character in a mid-credits scene that foreshadows the anticipated plot of an obvious sequel.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Black Adam” in U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Hocus Pocus 2,’ starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy

September 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in “Hocus Pocus 2” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Hocus Pocus 2”

Directed by Anne Fletcher

Culture Representation: Taking place in Salem, Massachusetts, the fantasy comedy film “Hocus Pocus 2” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In this sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson witch sisters return to wreak more havoc on Salem. 

Culture Audience: “Hocus Pocus 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s main stars and the original 1993 “Hocus Pocus” movie, but fans should keep their expectations low, since “Hocus Pocus 2” delivers a very forgettable and middling story.

Belissa Escobedo, Whitney Peak and Lilia Buckingham in “Hocus Pocus 2” (Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

The magic of a classic film is missing from “Hocus Pocus 2,” which lacks much of the charm and adventure of 1993’s “Hocus Pocus” movie. The chase scenes are tepid, the performances are inferior to the original movie, and the witches show no real danger to the kids. “Hocus Pocus 2” plays out like a lazily conceived TV special (including annoying sitcom-ish music) instead of a cinematic event, which is why “Hocus Pocus 2” was released directly to Disney+ instead of movie theaters first.

Directed by Anne Fletcher, “Hocus Pocus 2” suffers from sequel-itis: when a sequel doesn’t do anything to improve on the original project. Because it took 29 years to release a sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” this sequel-itis problem is harder to forgive for “Hocus Pocus 2,” because there’s been plenty of time to come up with better ideas for a follow-up to “Hocus Pocus.” The more experienced cast members of “Hocus Pocus 2” perform better than the less-experienced cast members, but that’s not saying much when the movie’s unimaginative screenplay from Jen D’Angelo drags the movie down a lackluster and frequently boring path.

The original “Hocus Pocus” movie is not a great film, but it gained a cult following and has since become a Halloween classic for a lot of people, just like 1983’s “A Christmas Story” (another mediocre movie) gained a cult following and became a beloved Christmas film for a lot of movie viewers. The story in “Hocus Pocus 2” gets distracted by a lot of teen angst about who is and who isn’t in certain cliques in high school. “Hocus Pocus 2” has too many filler scenes that make it look like about 40 minutes of this 103-minute film could have been removed, and this editing wouldn’t have made a difference at all to the movie’s underwhelming conclusion.

In the first “Hocus Pocus” movie (which was set in 1993), 15-year-old Max Dennison (played by Omri Katz) and his 8-year-old sister Dani Dennison (played by Thora Birch) have recently moved with their parents from Los Angeles to Salem, Massachusetts. Max and Dani hear about the Salem legend of three witch sisters—Winifred Sanderson (played by Bette Midler), Mary Sanderson (played by Kathy Najimy) and Sarah Sanderson (played by Sarah Jessica Parker)—who were known for eating children and were hanged to death by Salem residents in 1693. Ever since, Salem has been under threat of the possibility that the spirits of the Sanderson witches could return to get revenge and to kill more children.

Winifred, the eldest Sanderson sister, is bossy and mean-spirited. Mary, the middle sister, is nervous and eager to please “alpha witch” Winifred. Sarah, the youngest sister, is ditzy and very flirtatious. As legend has it, Winifred poisoned to death a man named William “Billy” Butcherson (played by Doug Jones) in 1693, because Billy was caught kissing Sarah, even though Winifred claimed Billy was her boyfriend. In “Hocus Pocus,” the Billy character was resurrected from his grave as a zombie.

The only way that the Sanderson sisters can come back to life is on Halloween, during a night with a full moon, and if someone lights a special black candle and chants a certain spell. The Sanderson sisters have a big book of spells called the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy that is actually “alive” (the book has one eye that can open and shut), and the sisters want to get possession of this book when they are resurrected. However, these witch sisters can be stopped when the sun comes up before they can cast the ultimate spells that they want to cast.

In “Hocus Pocus,” a skeptical Max, who doesn’t believe in magic, accidentally brings back to life the Sanderson sister witches, who then kidnap Dani. Max teams up with a classmate (and his secret crush) named Allison Watts (played by Vinessa Shaw) to try to rescue Dani. “Hocus Pocus” is very predictable, but it has plenty of amusing and adventurous moments.

In “Hocus Pocus 2” (which takes place in Salem in 2022), the witches are brought back to life on purpose by two best friends named Becca (played by Whitney Peak) and Izzy (played by Belissa Escobedo), who conjure up the Sanderson Sisters on a moonlit Halloween night that happens to be Becca’s 16th birthday. There’s also an adult character who wants the witches to be brought back to Salem. This conjuring scene doesn’t happen until about 30 minutes into the movie.

Instead, “Hocus Pocus 2” begins with tedious flashback scenes showing the Sanderson sisters as girls who are about 11 or 12 years old, sometime in the late 1600s. Taylor Henderson has the role of Young Winifred, Nina Kitchen performs as Young Mary, and Juju Journey Brener is the character of Young Sarah. None of this backstory amusing, interesting or well-acted.

The only real purpose of this drawn-out flashback is to show that the Sanderson sisters’ main nemesis back then was a judgmental pastor named Reverend Traske (played by Tony Hale), who has told Winifred that she’s getting old and has arranged for her to marry a young man named John Pritchett (played by Thomas Fitzgerald). The movie makes a point of showing that back in the 1600s, when human beings’ life expectancies were much shorter than they are now, pre-teen girls could get married and had marriages arranged for them by elders in the community.

However, Winifred doesn’t want to marry John, because she has her sights set on young Billy (played by Austin J. Ryan) to be her future husband. Winifred also defies and insults Reverend Traske by taking the Lord’s name in vain. With a crowd of Salem residents gathered in the town square, Reverend Traske shames Winifred and banishes her from Salem. (No one mentions where the sisters’ parents are during all this brouhaha.)

During this public shaming, Winifred has secretly put a live spider on the reverend’s arm. When he sees the spider, Reverend Traske panics and causes an uproar. Amid the chaos, the Sanderson sisters run into the woods nearby to hide. While in these woods, the sisters encounter the Witch Mother (played by Hannah Waddingham), who gives them the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy. The Sanderson sisters use the Spell of Smoke and Flame to set fire to Reverend Traske’s house as revenge. (No one is killed in this arson.)

“One day, Salem will belong to us!” Winifred vows when stating what will be the Sanderson sisters’ main mission. Winifred is the most vengeful and angriest of the three sisters. “Hocus Pocus 2” later has flashbacks of the Sanderson sisters as older teenagers, with Skyla Sousa as Winifred, Aiden Torres as Mary, and Emma Kaufman as Sarah.

It turns out that Reverend Traske was an ancestor of Salem’s current Mayor Traske (also played by Hale), who is campaigning for re-election in one of the movie’s useless subplots. Hale does his usual schtick of playing a neurotic character who is socially awkward but puts up a front of false confidence. Mayor Traske has a teenage daughter named Cassie (played by Lilia Buckingham), who attends Samuel Skelton High School in Salem. Becca and Izzy are two Cassie’s classmates.

Cassie, Becca and Izzy used to be a trio of best friends, until Cassie started avoiding Becca and Izzy and began spending more time with her athlete boyfriend Mike (played by Froy Gutierrez), a fellow classmate who is shallow and not smart. Mike has a particular dislike of Becca and Izzy, because he thinks these two pals have a weird interest in magic and the supernatural. He publicly teases Becca and Izzy about being witches.

Cassie is a passive girlfriend who goes along with whatever what Mike wants. Becca and Izzy feel confused and betrayed over why Cassie has seemingly turned against them, just so Cassie can fit in with Mike and his popular friends. Is this a “Hocus Pocus” movie or a run-of-the-mill teen soap opera? The movie takes way too much time with this subplot about teenage cliques when it should have focused more on how menacing the witches are to children.

“Hocus Pocus 2” further muddles the plot with a goofy character who calls himself Gilbert the Great (played by Sam Richardson), a magic enthusiast who owns and operates Olde Salem Magic Shoppe. Gilbert has a black cat named Cobweb, who’s cute and lives at the shop, but the cat doesn’t talk like the black cat did in “Hocus Pocus.” (The reason why the black cat talked in “Hocus Pocus” is explained in the beginning of the movie.)

On Halloween, Gilbert tells a group of assembled kids at his shop that the Sanderson sisters were “the most powerful coven who ever lived.” In other words, Gilbert is a superfan of the Sanderson sisters. And to prove how much of a fan he is, Gilbert has the Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy proudly on display in a locked case in his shop. Guess who’s going to want to bring back the Sanderson sisters too?

Of course, there would be no “Hocus Pocus 2” if the Sanderson sisters didn’t get revived again. They make their entrance by performing “The Witches Are Back,” to the music of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back,” but with different lyrics. At least “Hocus Pocus 2” had the sense to continue to use the singing talent of Midler in a scene that will delight fans of campy entertainment.

However, “Hocus Pocus 2” continually mishandles the depictions of why these three witches are supposed to be so dangerous. In “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson sisters are constantly craving children to eat. These sister witches, who have extraordinary senses that can detect the presence of children, often use these supersenses to try to hunt down children.

In “Hocus Pocus 2,” the Sanderson witches encounter children, but the witches don’t have the same air of intimidation and make very little attempt to capture any children that are in their way, like the same witches did in the first “Hocus Pocus” movie. Instead, “Hocus Pocus 2” has a silly sequence where Becca and Izzy pretend to be fans of the Sanderson sisters and lure the witches into a Walgreens store to get beauty products, in an attempt to appeal to the witches’ vanity. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

The witches are flabbergasted and fascinated by the Walgreens store’s sliding glass doors (apparently, the witches never knew sliding glass doors existed in 1993), which is one of the many not-very-funny gags in the movie. When the witches look for tools for riding in the air, Winifred finds a broom at Walgreens. Apparently, it’s the only broom in the store, because Sarah has to make do with a Swiffer WetJet, while Mary uses glowing hover rings.

The Walgreens sequence and other scenes in “Hocus Pocus 2” are just blatant excuses for product/brand placement. The movie also throws in a shameless and rather pointless mention of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” (ABC is owned by Disney, the company behind the “Hocus Pocus” movies.)

Meanwhile, the Sanderson sisters have time to show up on stage during Salem’s annual Halloween carnival to perform their version of Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” Billy the zombie returns in “Hocus Pocus 2” with his own agenda: He wants to clear his name, because he says he never cheated on Winifred, since he says that he was never Winifred’s boyfriend. Mayor Traske also has some of his own unresolved love-life issues from his past: He’s pining over a woman named Sandy, who founded a candy store in Salem called Sandy’s Candy Cauldron, and she’s coming back to Salem to re-open the store.

If this “Hocus Pocus 2” plot sounds very scatter-brained and unadventurous, that’s because it is. Midler, Najimy and Parker are obviously having fun, hamming it up in their roles, but the Sanderson Sisters act more like wannabe cabaret singers in “Hocus Pocus 2” than real witches who are hungry to hunt for children. When the witches finally capture a child (it’s the most obvious person possible, considering the sisters’ feud from the past), this kidnapping arrives so late in the movie, the stakes aren’t as high as they were in “Hocus Pocus.” The visual effects in “Hocus Pocus 2” are mediocre.

The Sanderson sisters are supposed to be over-the-top and ridiculous. In that respect, cast members Midler, Najimy and Parker deliver what they’re expected to deliver in “Hocus Pocus 2,” despite the substandard screenplay. However, the movie’s younger cast members don’t do anything special with their performances in “Hocus Pocus 2,” like Birch did in her scene-stealing performance in “Hocus Pocus.”

Fletcher’s direction of “Hocus Pocus 2” is just too unfocused and unremarkable to make “Hocus Pocus 2” shine in an outstanding way. The movie overall is unable to overcome the “Hocus Pocus 2” screenplay’s many flaws. Simply put: “Hocus Pocus 2” might be satisfactory enough for people with low expectations. But for people who expect better from a sequel that has been talked about for years and took 29 years to get released, “Hocus Pocus 2” will not be casting any enchanting spells.

Disney+ will premiere “Hocus Pocus 2” on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,’ starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Mouni Roy and Nagarjuna Akkineni

September 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Amitabh Bachchan in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” (Photo courtesy of Star India Pvt. Ltd./Walt Disney Pictures)

“Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva”

Directed by Ayan Mukerji

Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the sci-fi/fantasy film in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man finds out his connection to a secret society that channels mystical energy, as he is chased around by villains while he tries to prevent an apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor and will appeal to anyone who doesn’t mind watching sci-fi/fantasy movies that treat audiences like idiots.

Ranbir Kapoor and Akkineni Nagarjuna in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” (Photo courtesy of Star India Pvt. Ltd./Walt Disney Pictures)

The over-indulgent and moronic “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is an example of what happens when people spend too much money to make a movie and not enough effort to craft a coherent story and offer good performances. This abomination is an absolute chore to watch and will test the patience of viewers who have better things to do with their time, such as stare at a wall. At least when you stare at a wall, you won’t be annoyed by a constant barrage of stupidity with tacky visual effects, soundtrack music that’s too loud, and acting and dialogue so bad, it will all make you question why so many people signed off on making this obvious train wreck.

Written and directed by Ayan Mukerji, “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is the first part of his so-called “Astraverse trilogy.” It’s as pretentious as it sounds. Here’s how this murky concept is explained in the production notes for “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva”:

“‘Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva’ begins with an image of sages in deep meditation in a mystical time in ancient India. The sages are gifted with the Light of the Universe—a Brahm-Shakti—a manifestation of the purest creative energy there is. From this Light, objects of power known as Astras are born.”

The description continues: “There are Astras that command the energy of Fire, Wind, Water and Earth, as well as Astras with the essence of different animals and plants, all derived from the natural world. These include the Jalāstra, which commands the energy of water; the Pawanāstra, wind; the Agnyāstra, fire. The Vānarāstra gives the wielder the abilities of 1,000 monkeys, and the Nandi Astra gives users the strength of 1,000 bulls. (The Bull is the carrier of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology.) The final Astra is the last to emerge from the Light, and it contains its collective essence, becoming the Lord of all the Others, the Brahmāstra.”

The description also says: “The sages take a solemn vow to protect these Astras, and as the guardians of the Brahmāstra, they name themselves the Brahmānsh, forming a secret society that will exist amongst other men and do good for the world with the power of the Astras. Time moves forward, and the Brahmānsh carries on as well, passing on the Astras generation to generation all the way into our world today, where the Brahmānsh still exist in secret.”

All this means is that viewers will see a bunch of people running around, spouting mystical nonsense, hunting for various religious artifacts, and using weather or laser beams to do battle in the expected “good versus evil” plot. And it will be dragged out into three movies that are as irritating and nonsensical and overly long as each other, under the guise of being “epic” filmmaking. The only thing “epic” about “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is how it’s a epic failure at clever and original filmmaking.

Sometimes, a sci-fi/fantasy movie that knows it’s silly has fun with the absurdity and makes it entertaining for the audience. “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is not that kind of movie. It looks like an unintentional parody of all the sloppy things that are in terrible sci-fi/fantasy films. But everything is taken so seriously in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” which throws in some very eye-catching but cliché musical numbers.

“Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is an overload of sci-fi/fantasy stereotypes: There’s the good-looking lead actor, who plays a “chosen one” hero, who usually grew up without his parents, for one reason or another. And he usually finds out family secrets that are tied to his destiny/legacy. In this case, the hero’s name is Shiva (played by Ranbir Kapoor), who’s apparently a rock-star-like party DJ in his spare time and can draw festival-sized crowds, because that’s how he’s first seen on film.

There’s the older man who acts as a mentor to the hero. That’s the lazily named Guru (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is supposed to be a sage leader but comes across as wooden and stiff. There’s the “secret society” of warriors/fighters who are allies to the hero. In this movie, this secret society is called Brahmāstra, with Guru as their leader.

There’s the pretty love interest who somehow does fight scenes, chase scenes and other action scenes that would break bones in real life, but she gets maybe a bruise or two, and her hair and makeup stay intact. That’s Isha (played by Alia Bhatt), who is every worst stereotype of the female love interest who lacks substance. She has some of the worst lines in this already horrendous movie.

This is what Isha and Shiva say in their “meet cute” moment, which happens after they lock eyes in a corny slow-motion shot at one of Shiva’s DJ dance parties, where people are worshipping the Hindu goddess Durga: An awestruck Isha says to Shiva: “Who are you?” Shiva replies, “What are you?” Then he says, “I really like you.” And within hours of meeting Isha, Shiva is telling her that he loves her. Try not to retch.

There’s the sought-after mysterious person who might hold the crucial answers to the hero’s quest. That’s someone named Anish Shetty, also known as Artist (played by Nagarjuna Akkineni), who has an important artifact that Shiva needs. He gets caught up in some of the fight scenes. All of the movie’s action scenes are either very far-fetched or just plain formulaic.

There’s the chief villain, who has any number of cronies. In “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” that chief villain is a sorceress anmed Junoon (played by Mouni Roy), whose idea of being scary is smirking, glaring, and ultimately being a very generic nemesis. Junoon’s thugs include hulking Raftaar (played by Saurav Gurjar) and manipulative Zor (played by Rouhallah Gazi), who do a lot of snarling, grunting and fighting.

If you’ve seen this type of sci-fi/fantasy movie many times, then you’ll find no real surprises in “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva,” which is an excruciating 167 minutes long. “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” is just more of the same derivative sci-fi/fantasy, but worse than the usual formulaic junk. This horrible, bloated movie is an assault on people’s intelligence. If you can avoid it, do not subject yourself to this aggravation.

Walt Disney Pictures released “Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva” in U.S. cinemas on September 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing,’ starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton

August 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

“Three Thousand Years of Longing”

Directed by George Miller

Some language in Hellenic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Turkey, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the fantasy film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Asian) as human beings and magical beings representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Djinn (also known as a genie) is set free from a bottle by a loner middle-aged divorcée from the United Kingdom, and he tells her stories of how he was trapped inside the bottle at various times over 3,000 years. 

Culture Audience: “Three Thousand Years of Longing” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, filmmaker George Miller and adult-oriented fantasy movies.

Tilda Swinton in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (Photo by Elise Lockwood/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not as weird and edgy as the movie’s trailer would suggest. It’s a sometimes-rambling yet visually striking adult-oriented fairy tale about a genie and the stories he tells to the scholarly divorcée who frees him from a bottle. The film is not a masterpiece, but it’s entertaining enough for people who can engage with a fantasy movie that’s more about storytelling than about fast-paced action scenes.

Directed by George Miller (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Augusta Gore), “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is based on A. S. Byatt’s 1994 novel “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.” Although the movie is narrated by British scholar Alithea Binnie (played by Tilda Swinton), viewers will learn a lot more about the electromagnetic genie called the Djinn (played by Idris Elba) whom Alithea accidentally releases from a bottle. That’s because almost the entire movie is about the Djinn telling Alithea about three major times in his life that he was imprisoned in a bottle.

In the beginning of the movie, she says in a voiceover: “My name is Alithea. My story is true. You’re more likely to believe me if I tell you it’s a fairy tale.” Swinton is quite good in the role of Alithea, but she’s portrayed many uptight and quirky British women before in other movies, her work in “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is just more of the same, but not as quick-tempered and unhinged as some of her other eccentric characters in other films.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” opens with Alithea (who lives in London) arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, for a storytelling conference. (“Three Thousand Years of Longing” was actually filmed in Australia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.) In addition to being a scholar, Alithea is an enthusiast of fantasy storytelling. Ever since she was a child, she had an active imagination and kept journals of her fantasy writings and illustrations.

A flashback in the movie shows how Alithea at about 10 or 11 years old (played by Alyla Browne) as a social outcast at her all-girls boarding school. During her childhood, Alithea had an imaginary male creature friend named Enzo (played by Abel Bond) that she wrote about and drew in her journals. Alithea could see and hear Enzo but no one else could. Enzo would often comfort her when she was feeling lonely and sad. Don’t expect to find out anything about Alithea’s family, except to know that she has no siblings.

Now in her late 50s or early 60s, Alithea is now a professor of narratology who has been divorced since she was in her 30s. She’s still a loner who writes and draws in journals what comes up in her vivid imagination. Alithea also still sees visions of various magical creatures that look real to her, but no one else can see them.

For example, when she arrives at the airport, she sees a short, odd-looking man who tries to help her carry her suitcase, but she refuses, and he disappears into the crowd. When Alithea tells a male professor colleague (who’s sharing a car ride with her) about this strange experience, she describes the unusual man as “hot to the touch” and “musky.” Alithea’s colleague suggests that she might have seen a ghost.

Alithea is one of the speakers at the conference, where she says that stories about mythical gods have been a part of human hstory for ages. (In the background on the conference stage is a collage portrait of comic book superheroes, to illustrate her point.) During her speech, Alithea sees in the audience a vision of ghost-like elderly man wearing all white in an ancient royal outfit, including a crown.

Suddenly, this mystery spirit lunges at Alithea. And the next thing she knows, she’s being woken up by people on the conference stage because she’s been told that she fainted. Alithea has no memory of passing out. And she insists that she’s feeling perfectly fine.

In her hotel room, Alithea takes out a blue-and-white stripped bottle that looks like a perfume bottle. A brief flashback show that she purchased the bottle at trinket shop in an Instanbul bazaar. The bottle had burn marks on it, but that just makes her more interested in buying. “I like it,” she tells the shop owner. “I’m sure it has an interesting story.”

Alithea takes a toothbrush to try to rub off some of the burn marks. And that’s when the Djinn come out of the bottle, in clouds of purple smoke. At first, the Djinn appears in giant form, but eventually, he shrinks himself down to the form of a human. He begins speaking to her in Hellelnic (a language that Alithea knows), btu then eventually spends the rest oft he time talking to Alithea in her native English language. Alithea is convinced that that the Djinn is part of her imagination, but the more he talks to her, the more she’s convinced that he’s real.

The Djinn essentially says that he’s been trapped in the bottle for nearly 200 years. And in order for him to gain eternal freedom, he tells Alithea that he must grant three wishes to her. There are some caveats to these wishes. She cannot wish for eternal wishes or anything that would end suffering. Her wishes must also be heartfelt and sincere, not taken as a joke, in order for the wishes to really come true.

Alithea insists to the Djinn that she’s perfectly content with her life and doesn’t have any wishes. She has no loved ones and is happy with her job. Alithea only opens up about her her past experiences with love and heartbreak when she briefly tells him about her lonely childhood and her divorce. It’s the only glimpse into Alithea’s personal life.

Alithea was married to her college sweetheart Jack (played by Peter Bertoni, in a flashback scene) for a period of time that appears to be less than 10 years. Alithea and Peter had many things in common, and she thought that they were soul mates. At one point, Alithea got pregnant and was far-enough along in the pregnancy that she knew she was going to have a boy. Alithea and Jack were going to name the child Enzo.

All of this information can be deduced from a brief flash of a pregnancy test vial showing a positive test result. Alithea had kept this pregnancy test vial as a memento in a scrapbook and had written the name Enzo on the vial. When Alithea tells the Djinn about her marriage, she never goes into details about happened to this pregnancy.

However, it’s implied that she had a miscarriage, since the child is never seen in the flashbacks. Alithea says that she and Jack eventually drifted apart (with the implication that the loss of the child was a big reason why), and they got divorced. Jack eventually married a younger woman named Emmaline Porter (played by Lianne Mackessey), and Alithea has seen the happy couple together in London on at least one occasion.

The Djinn has his own stories of loss and heartbreak to tell. His first story of being imprisoned in the bottle is about when he was the servant/lover of Africa’s Queen of Sheba (played by Aamito Lagum), who did not love the Djinn in the way that the Djinn loved her. A love triangle developed when a visiting king named Solomon (played by Nicolas Mouawad) began courting the queen. You can easily guess how this love triangle ended.

The Djinn’s second story of being “incarcerated” in a bottle takes place in the 1530s, during the rule of Turkey’s Ottomon Empire. The story begins with a destitute and enslaved young woman named Ezgi (played Pia Thunderbolt) releasing the Djinn from a bottle. The Djinn grants Ezgi’s wish to marry Prince Mustafa (played by Matteo Bocelli), who is next in line to inherit the kingdom.

However, a power struggle breaks out between Prince Mustafa, his younger brother Ibrahim (played by Jack Braddy) and their father Sultan Suleiman (played by Lachy Hulme). Ibrahim has a sexual fetish for plus-sized women. One of the women in Ibrahim’s harem plays a role in Djinn’s fate.

The Djinn’s third story is supposed to be the most impactful, but it’s the most underdeveloped and seems too rushed in the movie. In this story (which takes place in the mid-19th century in Turkey), the Djinn talks about Zefir (played by Burcu Gölgedar), a woman whom Djinn describes as perhaps the greatest love of his life. The Djinn says that he loved Zefir more than he loved the Queen of Sheba.

At the age of 12 years old, Zefir was forced to marry a Turkish merchant, whose name is not mentioned in the movie. This merchant is old enough to be Zefir’s grandfather. Zefir is the merchant’s third wife in his harem. His other two wives, who are close to the merchant’s age, are very jealous of Zefir and treat her like an outsider. A lonely Zefir eventually finds the bottle where the Djin was kept and frees him.

All three of the Djinn stories involve a woman freeing him from a bottle and some kind of power struggle that ensues. Djinn describes himself in his relationships as loyal and accommodating. And he is that way with Alithea too, but only after she begins to trust him. He can be impatient with Alithea when she’s indecisive about if or when she wants to make a wish.

Because the movie reveals up front that Djinn’s three stories are about how he got trapped in a bottle on three separate occasions, viewers aleady know that each story will not end well for the Djinn. And therefore, the movie’s only real question that needs to be answered is: “What will Ailthea’s wish for, if she chooses to make any or all of the three wishes?”

Alithea thinks that all stories about wishes are “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tales, so she’s afraid of making any wish that could be a big mistake. Through the Djinn’s stories, she starts to understand that life can be a very dull existence if risks aren’t taken. Alithea also learns that it’s not always selfish to ask for what you want.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” has the look of an ambitious fantasy film, but thankfully is only 108 minutes long. The visual effects and cinematography are well-done, and the acting is perfectly fine from all involved. However, the movie is not without its flaws.

The three stories are unevenly paced to the importance each story has to the Djinn’s life. The second story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire should have been shortened and the time used to expand more on the third story about the Djinn’s relationship with Zefir. There’s not much in the movie to show why Djinn considers his relationship with Zefir to be a great love affair.

Zefir and the Djinn are not shown connecting on any emotional level. The Djinn essentially does what Zefir wants, including making himself disappear, especially when her husband is around. And, as previously mentioned, Alithea remains a bit of a mystery throughout the entire. The only other insight into Alithea’s personal life is when she returns to London and shows disgust for the racial and ethnic bigotry expressed by two nosy, elderly women who live in the house next door.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is not going to appeal to people who are expecting any comedic moments. It’s a brooding movie that’s not overly intense or gory, but it’s far from being lighthearted and whimsical. It’s probably one of the most serious-minded gene movies you’ll ever see, Viewers might get some enjoyment out of the acting and the storytelling format of the movie, which has a timeless message about valuing love, no matter where and when someone exists.

United Artists Releasing/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Three Thousand Years of Longing” in U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie is set for release in Australia on September 1, 2022.

Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe and Natalie Portman

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder”

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and other parts of the universe (including the fictional location of New Asgard), the superhero action film “Thor: Love and Thunder” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nordic superhero Thor Odinson, also known as the God of Thunder, teams up with allies in a battle against the revengeful villain Gorr the God Butcher, while Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Porter has her own personal battle with Stage 4 cancer. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that skillfully blend drama and comedy.

Christian Bale in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder” could also be called “Thor: Grief and Comedy,” because how of this superhero movie sequel balances these two themes with some results that are better than others. The movie goes big on showing bittersweet romance and the power of true friendships. Some of the movie’s subplots clutter up the movie, and any sense of terrifying danger is constantly undercut by all the wisecracking, but “Thor: Love and Thunder” gleefully leans into the idea that a superhero leader can be a formidable warrior, as well as a big goofball and a sentimental romantic.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also a commercial showcase for Guns N’Roses music. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie to blatantly shill for a rock band to the point where not only are four of the band’s hits prominently used in major scenes in the movie, but there’s also a character in the movie who wants to change his first name to be the same as the first name of the band’s lead singer. The music is well-placed, in terms of conveying the intended emotions, but viewers’ reactions to this movie’s fan worship of Guns N’Roses will vary, depending on how people feel about the band and its music. The Guns N’Roses songs “Welcome the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” are all in pivotal scenes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” picks up where 2019’s blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” concluded. What’s great about “Thor: Love and Thunder” (which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) is that the filmmakers didn’t assume that everyone watching the movie is an aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), nor did they assume that everyone watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” will know a lot about the Nordic superhero Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) before seeing the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a montage summary (narrated cheerfully by Waititi’s Korg character, a rock-like humanoid who is one of Thor’s loyal allies) that shows the entire MCU history of Thor up until what’s about to happen in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The movie’s opening scene isn’t quite so upbeat, because it gets right into showing that grief will be one of the film’s biggest themes. In a very barren desert, a man and his daughter (who’s about 8 or 9 years old, played by India Rose Hemsworth) are deyhdrated, starving, and close to dying. The girl doesn’t survive, and the man is shown grieving at the place where he has buried her. Viewers soon find out that this man is Gorr the God Butcher (played by Christian Bale), who is the story’s chief villain. But he didn’t start out as a villain.

After the death of his daughter, a ravenously hungry Gorr ends up a tropical-looking, plant-filled area, where he devours some fruit. Suddenly, a male god appears before Gorr, who is pious and grateful for being in this god’s presence. Gorr tells the god: “I am Gorr, the last of your disciples. We never lost our faith in you.”

The god scoffs at Gorr’s devotion and says, “There’s no eternal reward for you. There’ll be more followers to replace you.” Feeling betrayed, Gorr replies, “You are no god! I renounce you!” The god points to a slain warrior on the ground and tells Gorr that the warrior was killed for the Necrosword, a magical sword that can kill gods and celestials. The Necrosword levitates off of the ground and gravitates toward Gorr.

The god tells Gorr: “The sword chose you. You are now cursed.” Gorr replies, “It doesn’t feel like a curse. It feels like a promise. So this is my vow: All gods will die!” And you know what that means: Gorr kills the god in front of him, and Thor will be one of Gorr’s targets.

Meanwhile, Thor is seen coming to the rescue of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who need his help in battling some villains on a generic-looking planet in outer space. All of the Guardians are there (except for Gamora, who died at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”), and they see Thor as a powerful ally. However, the Guardians are worried that Thor has lost a lot of his emotional vitality. Thor (who hails from Asgar) is grieving over the loss his entire family to death and destruction.

Thor is also still heartbroken over the end of his romantic relationship with brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), who was in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Viewers will find out in a “Thor: Love and Thunder” flashback montage what really happened that caused the end of this relationship. Jane and Thor are considered soul mates, but their devotion to their respective work resulted in Thor and Jane drifting apart.

Guardians of the Galaxy leader Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), tries to give Thor a pep talk, because Star-Lord can relate to losing the love of his life (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), but the main difference is that Thor has a chance to see Jane again because she’s still alive. As shown in the trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Jane will soon come back into Thor’s life in an unexpected way, when she gains possession of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir, and she reinvents herself as the Mighty Thor. As an example of some of the movie’s offbeat comedy, Korg keeps getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, by sometimes calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster.

The Guardians of the Galaxy section of “Thor: Love and Thunder” almost feels like a completely separate short film that was dropped into the movie. After an intriguing opening scene with Gorr, viewers are left wondering when Gorr is going to show up again. Instead, there’s a fairly long stretch of the movie with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy

After spending a lot of meditative time lounging around in a robe, Thor literally throws off the robe for the battle scene with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” blares on the soundtrack. After the battle is over (it’s easy to predict who the victors are), Thor’s confident ego seems to have come roaring back. He exclaims with a huge grin: “What a classic Thor adventure! Hurrah!”

As a gift for this victory, Thor gets two superpowered goats, which have the strength to pull space vessels and whose goat screaming becomes a running gag in the movie. The visual effects in “Thor: Love and Thunder” get the job done well enough for a superhero movie. But are these visual effects groundbreaking or outstanding? No.

The Guardians’ personalities are all the same: Star-Lord is still cocky on the outside but deeply insecure on the inside. Drax (played by Dave Bautista) is still simple-minded. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is still sarcastic. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) is still sweetly earnest. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) still only has three words in his vocabulary: “I am Groot.”

Nebula (voiced by Karen Gillan), who is Garmora’s hot-tempered adopted sister and a longtime Guardians frenemy, is now an ally of the Guardians. Guardians associate Kraglin Obfonteri (played by Sean Gunn) makes a brief appearance to announce that he’s gotten married to an Indigarrian woman named Glenda (played by Brenda Satchwell), who is one of his growing number of his wives. It’s mentioned in a joking manner that Kraglin has a tendency to marry someone at every planet he visits.

With his confidence renewed as the God of Thunder, Thor decides he’s ready to end his “retirement” and go back into being a superhero. He says goodbye to the Guardians, who fly off in their spaceship and wish him well. Little does Thor know what he’s going to see someone from his past (Jane), whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander), an Asgardian warrior who was in the first “Thor” movie and in “Thor: The Dark World,” re-appears in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but she now has a missing left arm and has to learn to re-adjust her fighting skills. Sif’s presence in this movie isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s a welcome return, but some viewers might think that Sif doesn’t get enough screen time.

Meanwhile, as shown in “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor gave up his King of New Asgard title to his longtime associate Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who’s finding out that being the leader of New Asgard isn’t quite as enjoyable as she thought it would be. She’d rather do battle alongside her buddy Thor instead of having to do things like attend dull council meetings or cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. New Asgard is a fishing village that has become a tourist destination that plays up its connection to Thor and his history.

The stage play recreation of Thor’s story was used as a comedic gag in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (also directed and written by Waititi), and that gag is used again in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as this play is staged in New Asgard, but with an update to include what happened in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Making uncredited cameos as these stage play actors in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are Matt Damon as stage play Loki (Thor’s mischievous adopted brother), Luke Hemsworth as stage play Thor, Melissa McCarthy as stage play Hela (Thor’s villainous older sister) and Sam Neill as stage play Odin (Thor’s father). This comedic bit about a “Thor” stage play isn’t as fresh as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but it’s still amusing.

One of the New Asgard citizens is a lively child of about 13 or 14 years old. His name is Astrid, and he announces that he wants to change his first name to Axl, in tribute to Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’Roses. Axl (played by Kieron L. Dyer) is the son of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba), the Asgardian gatekeeper who was killed by supervillain Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” As fans of superhero movies know, just because a character is killed on screen doesn’t mean that that character will never be seen again. And let’s just say that “Thor: Love and Thunder” makes it clear that people have not seen the last of Heimdall.

Jane has a poignant storyline because she has Stage 4 cancer, which is something that she’s in deep denial about since she wants to act as if she still has the same physical strength as she did before her cancer reached this stage. Jane’s concerned and loyal assistant Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) makes a brief appearance to essentially advise Jane to slow down Jane’s workload. Jane refuses to take this advice.

The way that Jane gets Thor’s hammer isn’t very innovative, but she finds out that the hammer gives her godlike strength and makes her look healthy. It’s no wonder she wants to explore life as the Mighty Thor. (Her transformation also includes going from being a brunette as Jane to being a blonde as the Mighty Thor.)

And where exactly is Gorr? He now looks like a powder-white Nosferatu-like villain, as he ends up wreaking havoc by going on a killing spree of the universe’s gods. And it’s only a matter of time before Gorr reaches New Asgard. With the help of shadow monsters, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of New Asgard (including Axl) and imprisoning them in an underground area. Guess who’s teaming up to come to the rescue?

After the mass kidnapping happens, there’s a comedic segment where Thor ends up in the kingdom of Greek god Zeus (played by Russell Crowe), a toga-wearing hedonist who says things like, “Where are we going to have this year’s orgy?” Zeus is Thor’s idol, but Thor gets a rude awakening about Zeus. Thor experiences some humiliation that involves Thor getting completely naked in Zeus’ public court. Crowe’s questionable Greek accent (which often sounds more Italian than Greek) is part of his deliberately campy performance as Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” packs in a lot of issues and switches tones so many times, it might be a turnoff to some viewers who just want to see a straightforward, uncomplicated and conventional superhero story. However, people who saw and enjoyed “Thor: Ragnarok” will be better-prepared for his mashup of styles that Waititi continues in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which has that same spirit. “Thor: Love and Thunder” tackles much heavier issues though, such as terminal illness and crushing heartbreak.

The movie’s cancer storyline with Jane could have been mishandled, but it’s written in a way that has an emotional authenticity among the fantastical superhero shenanigans. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also goes does fairly deep in exposing the toll that superhero duties can take on these superheroes’ love lives. Thor and Jane have to come to terms with certain decisions they made that affected their relationship.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the personal lives of supporting characters Korg and Valkyrie. In a memorable scene, Valkyrie and Korg are alone together in an area of Thor’s Viking ship, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about not finding their true loves yet. They are lovelorn cynics but still show some glimmers of optimism that maybe they will be lucky in love. It’s in this scene where Korg mentions that he was raised by two fathers, and Valkyrie briefly mentions having an ex-girlfriend. A scene later in the movie shows that Korg is open having a same-sex romance.

All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Hemsworth and Portman have the performances and storyline that people will be talking about the most for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The ups and downs of Thor and Jane’s on-again/off-again romance are not only about what true love can mean in this relationship but also touch on issues of power, control, trust and gender dynamics. It’s a movie that acknowledges that two people might be right for each other, but the timing also has to be right for the relationship to thrive.

Bale does a very solid job as Gorr, but some viewers might be disappointed that Gorr isn’t in the movie as much as expected. That’s because the first third of “Thor: Love and Thunder” is taken up by a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy interactions with Thor. In other words, Gorr’s villain presence in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not particularly encompassing, as Hela’s villain presence was in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie’s final battle scene might also be somewhat divisive with viewers because one member of Thor’s team is not part of this battle, due to this character being injured in a previous fight and being stuck at a hospital. Fans of this character will no doubt feel a huge letdown that this character is sidelined in a crucial final battle. Leaving this character out of this battle is one of the flaws of “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The mid-credits scene and end-credits scene in Thor: Love and Thunder” show characters who are supposed to be dead. The mid-credits scene also introduces the family member of one of the movie’s characters, while the end-credits scene teases the return of other characters who exist in another realm. Neither of these scenes is mind-blowing. However, they’re worth watching for MCU completists and anyone who likes watching all of a movie’s credits at the end.

What “Thor: Love and Thunder” gets right is that it shows more concern than many other MCU movies about how insecurities and isolation outside the glory of superhero battles can have a profound effect on these heroes. Saving the universe can come at a heavy emotional price, especially when loved ones die. Whether the love is for family members, romantic partners or friends, “Thor: Love and Thunder” acknowledges that love can result in grief that isn’t easy to overcome, but the healing process is helped with loyal support and some welcome laughter.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Thor: Love and Thunder” in U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,’ starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Callum Turner and Jessica Williams

April 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law, Fionna Glascott, Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

Directed by David Yates

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1930s in the United Kingdom, New York City, China, Germany, Austria and Bhutan, the fantasy film “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) portraying wizards, witches and Muggles (humans with no magical powers).

Culture Clash: In this prequel movie to the “Harry Potter” series, good wizard Albus Dumbledore assembles a team to do battle against his former lover Gellert Grindelwald, an evil wizard who wants to oppress Muggles and take over the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Harry Potter” universe fans, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” will appeal to viewers of fantasy films about battling wizards, but viewers of this jumbled movie will be very confused unless they saw or know what happened in 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

Mads Mikkelsen in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Messy and often tedious, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” stumbles and fumbles around like a franchise in search of a coherent plot. It’s ironic that this sequel about battling wizards has lost the magic of the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie and doesn’t even come close to the best “Harry Potter” movies. The “Fantastic Beast” movies, which are the prequels to the “Harry Potter” movies, began with 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and continued with 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” and 2022’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”

David Yates, who directed the last four “Harry Potter” movies, directed all three of these “Fantastic Beasts” movies, and he has been announced as the director of more “Fantastic Beasts” movies. Unfortunately, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” looks like a movie where, even though many of the same filmmakers from previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies are involved, they’ve gotten too self-satisfied with their financial success and are just churning out uninspired mediocrity. “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a perfect example of a movie with “sequel-itis,” where there’s little to no effort to surpass the creativity of the first (and usually best) movie in the series.

“Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” book series author J.K. Rowling has been the screenplay writer for the “Fantastic Beasts” movies. For “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Rowling and Steve Kloves are the credited screenwriters. However, they make the mistake that a lot of movie sequel screenwriters make when crafting a story: assuming that everyone seeing the movie saw a preceding movie in the series.

If you don’t know who Grindelwald and Dumbledore are, if you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a magician and a Muggle, and you don’t care enough to find out, then “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is not the movie for you. But if you are new to the franchise and are curious, then you probably still need to go and watch the previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies to fully understand what’s going on in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” Otherwise, too many parts of the film will be baffling to you.

What is easy to understand is that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has the predictable cliché of a good leader versus a bad leader, who wants to take over the world/universe/fill-in-the-blank space with whatever population. If it’s a fantasy film, various supernatural powers are used and/or spells are cast. And then, it all leads to a big showdown that has the expected outcome. The End.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” follows the same formula, but it doesn’t care enough to inform new viewers about meaningful backstories of the main characters. Viewers would have to know in advance that magizoologist Newton “Newt” Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) is a British Ministry of Magic employee, who works in the Beasts Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Viewers would also have to know that Newt is the protégé of Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), a highly respected member of the British Wizarding Community and a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he teaches students how to defend against the dark arts. (It’s the school that’s later attended by Harry Potter and his friends.)

Viewers would also have to know that Dumbledore is gay and that he and his ex-lover Gellert Grindelwald (played by Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp in the role), who were a couple when they were in their late teens, are now sworn enemies, because Grindelwald is now an evil wizard who wants to take over the world. One thing that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” does explain more than adequately (and repeats to the point where it insults viewers’ intelligence) is that Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a blood pact when they were a couple to never directly harm each other. This pact manifests itself in the movies with thorn-like chains around their wrists and a pendant that gets pulled out to show from time to time.

Viewers would also have to know that in this world populated by secret and not-so-secret wizards and witches, human beings with no magical powers are called Muggles. One of these Muggles is Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler), a lovelorn baker who has been Newt’s ally in all of the “Fantastic Beasts’ movies. However, Jacob has mixed feelings about helping Newt in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” That’s because he’s in love with a witch named Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol), who was in a forbidden romance with Jacob because it’s taboo for wizards and witches to have romantic relationships with and marry human beings.

Viewers would also have to know the backstory about Newt’s sometimes tension-filled relationship with his older brother Theseus Scamander (played by Callum Turner), who is considered an upstanding employee of the British Ministry of Magic. By contrast, Newt is considered an unpredictable, somewhat roguish employee of the British Ministry of Magic. As explained in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Newt and Theseus fell in love with the same woman named Leta Lestrange (played by Zoë Kravitz), whose fate is shown in that movie.

And then there’s the complicated history of Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller), whose real name was revealed to be Aurelius Dumbledore in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” He’s been caught in a tug-of-war between good and evil. In the beginning of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Credence/Aurelius (who is very dour and mopey) is on evil Grindelwald’s side. And so is Queenie, the love of Jacob’s life.

What does all of this mean? Dumbledore is going to assemble a team to defeat Grindelwald, who is a political candidate in the upcoming election for supreme head of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW). This election is supposed to show that Grindelwald is not going to operate in the underworld, but he wants to become part of the establishment government in power. Grindelwald’s two opponent candidates in this election are Brazil’s minister of magic Vicência Santos (played by Maria Fernanda Cândido) and China’s minister of magic Liu Tao (played by Dave Wong), while the outgoing ICW supreme head is Anton Vogel (played by Oliver Masucci), who is Germany’s minister of magic.

In addition to Newt and Jacob, the others who are on Dumbledore’s team are Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (played by Jessica Williams), a sassy teacher at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Yusuf Kama (played by William Nadylam), an even-tempered Senegalese French wizard; and Bunty Broadacre (played by Victoria Yeates), who is Newt’s loyal and trustworthy assistant. Queenie’s sister Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston), a love interest of Newt’s, makes a brief appearance toward the end of the movie. Aberforth Dumbledore (played by Richard Coyle), Albus’ somewhat estranged brother and the owner of the Hog’s Head Inn, is in the movie as an explanation for more of the Dumbledore family history.

And you can’t have a movie called “Fantastic Beasts” without some magical creatures running around. In “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the creature at that’s the center of the story’s intrigue is the rare Qilin (pronounced “chillin”), which looks like a combination of a horse and a dragon. The Qilin has the ability to read someone’s heart and determine if someone is good or evil. In the beginning of the movie, Newt discovers a Qilin that has given birth. However, Grindelwald wants to kill any Qilins, to prevent Grindelwald’s dark heart and sinister intentions from being exposed.

There’s also the Manticore, a three-eyed beast that’s up to no good and looks like a combination of a crab/lobster and a scorpion. And there’s a shape-shifting avian creature called a Wyvern. Returning to the “Fantastic Beasts” series are the Bowtruckle named Pickett and the Niffler named Teddy. Although these creatures all contribute some way to the story, the visual effects for these creatures and the battle scenes won’t be winning any awards.

The opening scene of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is an example of how drab the movie is when in areas it should be electrifying and intriguing. The scene shows Albus Dumbledore and Grindelwald meeting each other at a restaurant. A scene that should sizzle with unresolved feelings between these two former lovers just ends up fizzling with dull dialogue.

Dumbledore tells Grindelwald of their blood oath to never directly harm each other: “We can free each other of it.” Dumbledore adds, “I was in love with you.” Grindelwald is unmoved and expresses his disgust of Dumbledore interacting with Muggles: “Do you really intend to turn your back on your own kind?” Grindelwald sneers. And of the human customers in the restaurant, Grindelwald asks Dumbledore if he can “smell the stench [of humans] in the room.”

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has more monotonous conversations throughout the movie, which makes the characters’ personalities very hollow and formulaic. The story has a lot of globetrotting to several countries to distract from the weak plot. The pacing is too slow in areas where there should be a higher level of intrigue. Many of the action scenes are poorly staged and look too forced and awkward. There’s nothing wrong with any of the cast members’ performances in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” but there’s no real spark to anything about this movie, which plods along until its very predictable conclusion.

The movie’s biggest failing is not adequately explaining crucial backstories. (At one point in the film, Lally does a rushed “exposition dump” by giving a babbling summary of what happened in the first two “Fantastic Beasts” movies.) The film’s lackluster dialogue and trite action scenes don’t help matters. The end result is a movie that seems to take its loyal fan base for granted and doesn’t really make new “Fantastic Beasts” viewers feel welcome.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” in U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2022. HBO Max will premiere the movie on May 30, 2022.

Review: ‘The King’s Daughter,’ starring Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Julie Andrews, Fan Bingbing and William Hurt

January 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter”

Directed by Sean McNamara

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1684 in Versailles, France, the fantasy drama film “The King’s Daughter” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Louis XIV wants to get immortality by taking the life force from a magical mermaid, but the king’s rebellious daughter Marie-Josèphe does everything she can to prevent this mermaid’s death.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Daughter” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky and poorly made fairy-tale movies.

Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter” is a laughably bad movie that seems like a parody, but with no self-awareness about how truly awful it is. It’s a fantasy drama filled with hokey dialogue, cheesy visual effects, and high-society women in 1680s France who dress like 1980s prom queens. Some of the scenery and production design are nice to look at (parts of the movie were filmed at the Palace of Versailles), but everything else is so bottom-of-the-barrel predictable and corny, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved in making this horrendous flop.

Directed by Sean McNamara, “The King’s Daughter” is adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun,” which was a combination of science fiction and historical romance. Barry Berman and James Schamus adapted the novel for “The King’s Daughter” screenplay, by hacking up “The Moon and the Sun” and turning it into a screenplay equivalent of a cheap and vapid romance novel. “The King’s Daughter” takes place in 1684 in Versailles, France, but the movie looks like the filmmakers just wanted to stick the movie in a palace setting, hire some well-known actors, and then hope the audience doesn’t notice how phony everything looks. “The King’s Daughter,” which was originally titled “The Moon and the Sun,” was filmed in 2014, and went through several studio ownerships before being released in 2022. It’s easy to see why multiple movie studios didn’t want to release this movie for all of these years.

The makeup and costume design in “The King’s Daughter” can best be described as careless, with too many modern details that make the movie look confused about the century in which this story is supposed to take place. Things aren’t much better with how “The King’s Daughter” has wildly uneven acting that ranges from campy to bored. Maybe it’s because the dialogue that the cast members have to work with is so cringeworthy. Somehow, the filmmakers convinced Oscar-winning actress Julie Andrews to do some voiceover narration for “The King’s Daughter.” Someone should’ve told Andrews that this atrocious movie makes “The Princess Diaries” look like an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in comparison.

“The King’s Daughter” has a muddled story about King Louis XIV (played by Pierce Brosnan, hamming it up in a long-haired wig) wanting to live forever, because he’s so egotistical that he thinks France will go downhill if he dies. “My immortality secures the future of France!” King Louis XIV pompously declares. King Louis XIV, who is also called the Sun King, feels more urgency to find the secret to immortality after he survives a botched assassination attempt upon his victorious return from a war. This assassination scene is sloppily acted: The king gets shot on the side of his abdomen, but then he’s able to get up, as if he just has a slight bruise.

The king’s personal physician Dr. Labarth (played by Pablo Schreiber) tells him that in the underwater Lost City of Atlantis, there’s a fabled female sea creature that could hold the secret to immortality. In order for the immortality magic to work, the creature’s life force can only be taken when the sun meets the moon—in other words, a solar eclipse. The king’s other close advisor is a priest named Père La Chaise (played by a William Hurt), who thinks it’s a bad idea to try to mess with nature and matters of life and death. The priest’s warning doesn’t stop the king from ordering a ship of naval subordinates to find this sea creature in Atlantis.

Captain Yves De La Croix (played by Benjamin Walker) is the ship’s leader. It doesn’t take long for Yves and his men to find two mysterious sea creatures and capture them. The creatures are a mermaid (played by Fan Bingbing, also known as Binging Fan) and a merman, who are a couple with an infant child. The merman is let go, but the mermaid (who’s never given a name) is brought back to an underground grotto area at the king’s palace. Later, it’s shown that the mermaid quickly gave the infant to another mermaid for safekeeping when she saw her male partner being captured and she knew she would be next.

Meanwhile, the beginning of “The King’s Daughter” shows a feisty young woman named Marie-Josèphe (played by Kaya Scodelario), who has grown up in a convent by the sea, being scolded by some nuns for Marie-Josèphe’s penchant of wanting to swim in the sea. Rachel Griffiths has a cameo as the convent’s head abbess. Marie-Josèphe’s unnamed mother (played by Tiffany Hofstetter, in a flashback) died when she was a baby. Marie-Josèphe’s father is King Louis XIV, who knows about Marie-Josèphe, but he never claimed her because she’s an illegitimate child.

Marie-Josèphe has grown up not knowing who her father is, but she’s about to find out. Faster than you can say “stupid fairy-tale movie,” Marie-Josèphe is summoned to the palace by the king, who has no other children and is thinking about his legacy in case he can’t live forever. Eventually, Marie-Josèphe finds out that the king is her father, but he orders her not to tell anyone that he’s her father. The movie tries in overly contrived ways to make Marie-Josephe look like a “relatable princess.” For example, Marie-Josephe clumsily falls in a fountain outside of the palace the first time that she meets the king.

The big conflict in the story comes when Marie-Josèphe finds out about the captured mermaid and wants to free the mermaid from captivity, against the king’s wishes. “The King’s Daughter” awkwardly wastes a lot of time getting to this big conflict. After Marie-Josèphe discovers the captured mermaid in the grotto and starts to befriend her, Marie-Josèphe suddenly gets the urge to play the cello. The music that Marie-Josephe plays is the music she can hear the mermaid communicate. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

When she’s not playing in a string orchestra on the palace lawn, as if she’s some kind of wedding performer, Marie-Josèphe is secretly visiting the mermaid. The strange moaning and shrieks that come out of the mermaid’s mouth can only be described as sounding like a mutation of a whale and a dolphin. The mediocre visual effects for the mermaid are often obscured by the water. The mermaid also glows in the dark.

Marie-Josèphe also hangs out with her lady-in-waiting Magali (played by Crystal Clarke), who is kind of an airhead. This is what Magali says to Marie-Josèphe when Magali finds out that she and Marie-Josèphe both grew up without their biological parents: “Trauma at the start of life often inspires greatness.” The casting of Magali is racially problematic because she is the only black person with a speaking role in the movie—and she’s a servant character who’s essentially a “mammy” stereotype seen in outdated and racist movies.

The movie’s grossly inaccurate fashions are random and very distracting. The society women and men of the king’s court sneer at Marie-Josèphe when she first arrives at the palace, because she’s dressed like a peasant. But some of the women are styled to look like Goths who got rejected from a Siouxie and the Banshees music video from the 1980s.

The fashion mistakes don’t stop there. Marie-Josèphe starts to dress more like a princess, but her gowns are the types of dresses that high school girls in 1980s teen romantic comedies would wear in scenes for proms or homecoming dances. Magali sometimes wears a plastic headband that looks like it was bought at a corner drugstore, not something that belongs to a lady-in-waiting in 1680s France. Yves sometimes wears a modern-styled leather jacket, as if he’s about to go on a motorcycle ride in a century when motorcycles weren’t even invented.

Every princess movie has a love story. In “The King’s Daughter,” Yves and Marie-Josèphe make goo-goo eyes at each other almost as soon as they meet, when he catches her hanging out in the grotto with the mermaid. Their courtship plays out exactly like you expect it would. Scodelario and Walker have some on-screen chemistry together (probably because they became a real-life couple because of this movie and got married in real life), but the romance in the movie is very dull.

Predictably, Yves is under orders from the king to keep the mermaid in captivity. Marie-Josèphe wants to set the mermaid free. As Yves and Marie-Josèphe fall in love, his loyalty is torn between King Louis XIV and Marie-Josèphe. You know how this is is going to end, so there’s no suspense.

Marie-Josèphe gets a serious injury on her right arm after falling off of a horse. Dr. Labarth recommends that her arm be amputated. But lo and behold, Marie-Josèphe goes down to the grotto to visit the mermaid, who heals Marie-Josèphe’s arm completely. It makes the king even more determined to steal the mermaid’s powers during the upcoming solar eclipse.

And because this movie is filled with clichés, there’s a love triangle. A haughty rich guy named Jean-Michel Lintillac (played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes) is making King Louis XIV feel guilty because Jean-Michel’s military father was killed in the war, and Jean-Michel blames the king. To get this complainer off of his back, the king offers Jean-Michel the title of duke. Later, the king arranges for Marie-Josèphe to marry Jean-Michel because the king doesn’t want Marie-Josèphe to be romantically involved with a commoner like Yves, who has some kind of past feud with Jean-Michel.

As the feisty and plucky Marie-Josèphe, Scodelario seems to give a sincere effort to embody her character, but her scenes with Brosnan are undercut by his campy over-the-top acting. Jean-Michel and Dr. Labarthe are just cardboard-like villains, although “Sons of Anarchy” alum Schreiber as Dr. Labarthe should be given some credit for playing a character outside of his usual “working-class tough guy” persona. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actor Hurt (as Père La Chaise) looks embarrassed to be in this movie. Viewers who watch this train-wreck film might be embarrassed too at wasting their time with this junk.

Gravitas Ventures released “The King’s Daughter” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022.

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