Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Demopolis, Alabama, in 1978, the family-friendly horror/fantasy film “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A widowed grandmother and her orphaned grandson encounter evil witches who want to turn children into mice.
Culture Audience: “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight, fantasy entertainment about good versus evil that has the same formula as many other family-oriented films about wicked witches who don’t like children.
“Roald Dahl’s Witches” should’ve been named “Anne Hathaway Hamming It Up as a Witch,” because that’s really the main attraction for this duller-than-it-should-be movie. Hathaway’s Grand High Witch character—who is the leader of a coven that’s flocked to Demopolis, Alabama, in 1978—is the only one in the coven who has a distinct personality. The rest of the witches are essentially backdrops to Hathaway’s over-the-top performance in a very formulaic and unimaginative movie. Considering all of the Oscar winners who were involved in making this movie, “Roald Dahl’s Witches” isn’t horrible, but it’s a big disappointment from people who can do and have done much better work.
Directed and co-written by Oscar-winning “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis, “Roald Dahl’s Witches” (adapted from Dahl’s 1983 novel “The Witches”) is the second movie version of the book. The first movie version was 1990’s “The Witches,” directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Anjelica Huston. The 2020 movie version changed the story’s location from Europe to the United States, and made the witch-hunting grandmother and grandson African American.
It’s a change that is significant only in that the movie briefly makes some subtle references to racism, and the grandmother listens to a lot of 1960s and 1970s R&B music. Other than that, the premise of the movie remains the same: The grandmother (played by Octavia Spencer) and her orphaned grandson (played by Jahzir Bruno), who do not have names in the movie, go on a mission to hunt down and stop a coven of witches who plan to turn children into mice, in the hopes that the mice will be killed as rodent pests.
Hathaway and Spencer are both Oscar winners. Zemeckis co-wrote the screenplay to this movie with “The Shape of Water” Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris. The movie’s cast also includes Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci. On paper, it sounds like a winning combination to make a spectacular, award-worthy classic movie. The reality is that “Roald Dahl’s Witches” is frustratingly average and at times a boringly repetitive film.
We’ve seen many movies already with an over-the-top evil witch, animated animals that interact with live-action humans (in this movie’s case, the animated animals are mice and one obligatory witch’s black cat), and one big race against time to stop the chief villain from doing what the villain plans to do. Nothing in this movie is award-worthy.
That’s not to say “Roald Dahl’s Witches” doesn’t have entertaining moments. But they are arrive in between long stretches where not much happens except the grandmother and her hero son talk about and plan what they need to do to stop the witches. The boy, whose parents died in a car accident, has been living with his grandmother since becoming an orphan. (Chris Rock does voiceover narration as the hero boy as an adult.) His grandmother is slowly able to lift him out his depression over his parents’ death, and she buys him a pet female mouse that he names Daisy.
And it’s around this time that the hero boy encounters a witch with a snake coming out of her sleeve while he and his grandmother are in a hardware store. The witch’s name is Zelda (played by Josette Simon), and it turns out that she used to be the grandmother’s best friend when they were children. Zelda was turned into a witch by the Grand High Witch and has been in the coven ever since. The grandmother figures out that her grandson encountered Zelda, based on her grandson’s frightened description of the witch he saw in the hardware store.
The witches in this story have several distinctive features, which the grandmother tells her grandson about when she teaches him how to spot a witch: The witches, who are demons disguised as humans, always wear long gloves because they have claws, not hands. The witches always wear wigs, because they are actually bald. The witches have unusually long corners of their mouths, which they cover with heavy makeup. The witches have feet without toes and have oversized nostrils that become more pronounced when they can catch the scent of children.
The witches hate kids and want to get rid of all the children in the world. The witches offer candy (such as taffy) to children entice them. And witches are repulsed by clean children because these children smell like defecation to the witches. The cleaner the children are, the more they stink to the witches.
After the grandson’s scary encounter with Zelda, the grandmother and grandson check into a swanky hotel called the Grand Imperial Island Hotel, which they are able to do because of a favor from a hotel employee whom the grandmother knows. The grandmother says that she figures that her grandson will be safe to hide there because “ain’t nothin’ but rich white folks” at the hotel and “witches prey on the poor, the overlooked, the kids they think nobody’s going to make a fuss about if they go missing.”
The movie’s other reference to racism and social-class disparities in America is when the grandmother and the grandson check into the hotel and the hotel manager R. J. Stringer III (played by Tucci) looks surprised to see them there. R.J. makes a comment to the grandson that the hotel normally doesn’t get a kid like him as a guest. It’s a racially tinged, condescending remark that the grandmother picks up on right away, and she lets this stuck-up manager know that she and her grandson will be treated with the same amount of respect that the other hotel guests get.
And speaking of the other hotel guests, there’s a snobbish British couple named Mr. Jenkins (played by Charles Edwards) and Mrs. Jenkins (played by Morgana Robinson) who are at the hotel with their insecure son Bruno Jenkins (played by Codie-Lei Eastick). Bruno tries to make friends with the grandson, but Bruno’s domineering mother won’t let him. And there’s a convention going on at the hotel for a group calling itself the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose members are all women who wear long gloves. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who these women really are.
“Roald Dahl’s The Witches” is a by-the-numbers story that hits all the familiar beats of similar movies, and it culminates in a showdown that goes exactly how you would expect it to go. There’s nothing wrong with the acting from the cast, but it’s just so predictable and generic. (Spencer plays yet another matronly woman who gets sassy when she has to be.) Children under the age of 14 will probably enjoy this film the most. But for people who’ve got more life experience and have seen enough movies like this already, “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” is just too cookie-cutter to really have much substance and make a lasting impact on viewers.
HBO Max premiered “Roald Dahl’s The Witches” on October 22, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in ancient China, the fantasy film remake “Mulan” features an all-Asian cast representing the middle-class, the military and royalty.
Culture Clash: A young woman with superhuman athletic powers disguises herself as a man, in order to fight in China’s Imperial Army, and she experiences sexism as a woman and dangerous conflicts while in combat.
Culture Audience: “Mulan” will primarily appeal people looking for family-friendly movies with a message of female empowerment, but fans of the original “Mulan” might be disappointed by the remake’s lack of humor.
Disney’s re-imagining of its numerous classic animated films has continued with the 2020 live-action version of “Mulan,” which is a very different take on the original 1998 animated “Mulan.” The 2020 version of “Mulan” should be commended for not doing an exact story replica of the original movie, which was the biggest criticism of Disney’s 2019 remake of “The Lion King” that basically did a more technologically updated animated copy of the 1994 classic “Lion King.” Does the remake of “Mulan” have anything groundbreaking? No, but that’s okay if you want to see an escapist film with a positive message about self-confidence and not letting bigotry get in the way of being who are and pursuing your dreams.
The 2020 version “Mulan” (directed by Niki Caro) took some creative risks by retooling the story into a serious action film instead of being a musical with comedic elements, which was the format of the original “Mulan.” But by changing the film’s tone, this “Mulan” remake ends up being a lot more generic than the original version, because the original “Mulan” depicted the characters as having much more distinct personalities. Although the “Mulan” remake is not a depressing movie, there’s very little humor to be found in the story. Much of the charm of the original “Mulan” came from the humorous characters (especially the miniature dragon Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy) and how they interacted with Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen in the original film) in her journey to becoming a warrior.
There are no musical numbers, wisecracking sidekicks or talking animals in the 2020 version of “Mulan.” However, the basic story is essentially the same: A young woman named Mulan in ancient China seems fated to follow a traditional life of being a wife and mother. But something happens that changes the course of her destiny: China is attacked by invaders and goes to war, so Mulan disguises herself as a man and enlists in the army so that her father (who has health problems) won’t have to fight in the war. (In the original “Mulan,” the Huns were the war villains; in the remake, the Rourans are the northern invaders.)
In the remake of “Mulan,” this heroine and her family have known about her “superpowers” or “chi” since she was a child, whereas in the original “Mulan,” it took a while for a fumbling and awkward Mulan to become skilled in combat fighting. Because this metamorphosis is removed from the remake, Mulan (played by Yifei Liu) essentially starts off as a superhero, who has to hide her “chi” powers in order to not be vilified as a witch. (In the original “Mulan,” the family surname was Fa, while the family surname is Hua in the remake.)
In the “Mulan” remake, Mulan has a younger sister named Xiu, who’s about four or five years younger than Mulan. Xiu’s only purpose in the movie is to show that Mulan now has a younger female who looks up to her from an early age, whereas in the original movie, Mulan was an only child. (In the “Mulan” remake, Crystal Rao plays the young Mulan, Elena Askin plays the young Xiu, and Xana Tang plays the adult Xiu.) A scene near the beginning of the film shows Mulan, at around the age of 11 or 12, dazzling Xiu with her graceful nimbleness and athletic abilities.
It’s also established early on in the movie that Mulan inherited her chi from her stern but loving father Zhou (played by Tzi Ma), a military veteran who wears a leg brace from an injury he got during a war. (In the original movie, Zhou’s health problems were from natural causes of old age.) Just like in the original movie, the “Mulan” remake has Mulan’s mother Wuwei (played by Rosalind Chao) as essentially a passive supporting character, because Mulan’s father is the parent who has more influence on Mulan.
The patriarchal sexism that Mulan battles against is still the main underlying conflict of the story, while the war is the obvious external conflict. In the movie, Zhou tells Mulan when she’s a child: “Your chi is strong. But chi is for warriors, not daughters … Soon, you’ll be a young woman, and it’s time to hide your gift away, to silence its voice. I say this to protect you. That is my job. Your job is to bring honor to the family. Can you do that?”
In this Chinese society, girls and women are told that they bring honor to the family by finding the right husbands to marry. In the original “Mulan,” there was a feisty and humorous grandmother who was desperate to see Mulan get married. As is the Chinese tradition, Mulan had to see a matchmaker to assess her qualities as a future wife and to discuss possible suitors who would be a good match for her.
There’s no grandmother in the “Mulan” remake. Instead, there’s an uptight, judgmental and humorless matchmaker (played by Pei Pei Chang) who tells Mulan that a good wife must be “quiet, composed, graceful, elegant, poised, polite, silent and invisible.” At first, the matchmaker gives Mulan her approval, by saying that Mulan has all of these qualities. But then, a wayward spider ends up on the table during the meeting, thereby causing a mishap that leads to Mulan’s extraordinary athletic ability becoming exposed.
The matchmaker is horrified that Mulan isn’t a demure and weak young woman, and so she humiliates Mulan by declaring to the family in full view of people in the town square that Mulan has brought dishonor to her family. Soon after this debacle, representatives from China’s Imperial Army come to the area to declare that each family must volunteer an adult male to serve in the war.
Zhou volunteers, since he is the only adult male in the family, but Mulan is worried that because of his leg disability, he won’t be able to survive the war. When she expresses her concerns to her father, Zhoe shows his patriarchal ego when he lectures Mulan: “It is my job to bring honor to this family. You are the daughter. Learn your place!”
The original “Mulan” had a somewhat iconic scene of Mulan cutting off a lot of her hair in order to disguise herself as a man. There’s no such hair-cutting scene in the “Mulan” remake, which is the movie’s subtle but feminist way of saying that this version of Mulan isn’t going to cut her hair for anyone. Instead, the movie abruptly shows Mulan with her hair in a bun, and she’s already disguised in her armor and taking her father’s lucky sword before she leaves home without her family’s knowledge or consent. The family figures out what happens when they find out that Mulan and the sword have disappeared.
Since the remake doesn’t have any scenes of Mulan fumbling her way through learning combat skills as a new soldier, her discomfort mainly comes from trying to hide her superpowers and her real gender, as well adjusting to being in an all-male environment for the first time in her life. In the original “Mulan,” Mulan used the name Ping as her male alias, whereas her male alias in the “Mulan” remake is Jin.
Mulan/Jin is immediately picked on by a soldier named Honghui (played by Yoson An), who wants to be the alpha male of the new recruits. Honghui’s bullying tactics are a way to test people on their physical and emotional strength. And because he’s singled out Mulan in their first encounter, it’s the obvious cue that he’s going to be Mulan’s love interest when he founds out her real gender. (It’s not a spoiler that Mulan’s true identity is eventually revealed, since it’s in the movie’s trailer and it’s a well-known part of the movie’s plot.) However, people looking for a romantic love story won’t find it in this movie.
Mulan/Jin and Honghui eventually become part of a tight-knit clique of other soldiers that includes macho Yao (played by Chen Tang); romantic Ling (played by Jimmy Wong); mild-mannered Po (played by Doua Moua); and goofy Cricket (played Jun Yu), who’s sometimes the butt of the group’s jokes. Other members of the Imperial Army are Commander Tung (played by Donnie Yen) and Sergeant Qiang (played by Ron Yuan). Commander Tung tells the soldiers that stealing, desertion and consorting with women are punishable by death, while dishonesty is punishable by expulsion.
The “Mulan” remake has definitely more of a female focus than the original, not just because it does away with Mulan having a male sidekick but also how it portrays the movie’s villains. The head of the Rouran invaders is Böri Khan (played by Jason Scott Lee), who gets a lot less screen time than his (literal) wing woman Xianniang (played by Gong Li), a powerful “witch” who can shapeshift into a hawk.
The purpose of Xianniang (a character that wasn’t in the original “Mulan” movie) is to show a parallel between her experiences of being an outcast in China because she’s a powerful woman and the similar experiences that Mulan could go through if it’s revealed that she’s a woman with superpowers. One of the movie’s most memorable scenes is when Xianniang and Mulan cross paths as enemies, but Mulan finds out that they have more in common with each other than Mulan would like to admit.
Mulan thinks Xianniang is foolish for aligning herself with a “coward” like Böri Khan. But Mulan is also in service of men who are in charge, so is Mulan’s situation all that different? The decisions made by the men in charge of the Imperial Army, including the Emperor (played by Jet Li), ultimately decide whether or not Mulan will be accepted for who she is or if she’ll be vilified and cast out from society. The outcome is extremely predictable, but this is a fantasy film that’s not trying to pretend to be historically accurate.
The screenplay for the 2020 remake of “Mulan” was written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, and was inspired by the narrative poem “The Ballad of Mulan.” Some people might say that the “Mulan” remake is more “feminist” than the original “Mulan,” because Mulan is aware of her superpowers from an earlier age, she doesn’t have a “Prince Charming” type of romance, and because the movie has the addition of the powerful female character Xianniang. The filmmakers of the “Mulan” remake seem to understand that feminism isn’t about male-bashing but about people of any gender not being discriminated against because of their gender.
The real world doesn’t always work in a fair and unbiased way, but the message of the movie that’s very realistic is that people can’t overcome gender discrimination obstacles by themselves. In order for real change to be made, enough people (include the right people in power) must make those changes. And if a woman can fight in an army of men, there’s no reason for her to not be able to rescue them too.
Visually, the “Mulan” remake is not a masterpiece, but it gets the job done well in all the right places. The main way that the movie lags is how the personalities of the characters are watered-down from the original “Mulan” movie. All of the actors in the movie do the best with what they’ve been given, but there doesn’t seem to be much depth to any of the predictable characters of the film, except for tormented soul Xianniang.
It’s implied that Xianniang pledged allegiance to Böri Khan because he was the only person who offered her a sense of belonging and family after she became an outcast. He uses her insecurities about being alone in the world to continue to manipulate her emotionally and maintain her loyalty. The “Mulan” remake obviously wanted a more serious tone than the original “Mulan,” so the movie could have benefited from a deeper exploration of this complicated alliance between Böri Khan and Xianniang.
The “Mulan” remake delivers exactly what you would expect from this type of Disney film. The inspirational story, engaging visuals and well-choreographed action sequences are good enough to make this a crowd-pleasing movie for the intended audience. However, many scenes in the remake of “Mulan” look derivative of better-made war movies that have been filmed in a much more majestic way. And if you’re looking for a movie worthy of several Oscar nominations, then this “Mulan” remake is not that movie.
Disney+ will premiere “Mulan” on September 4, 2020. From September 4 to December 3, 2020, the movie has an additional, one-time fee that allows Disney+ subscribers in the U.S. to see the movie on demand for an unlimited time during the Disney+ subscription. As of December 4, 2020, Disney+ subscribers in the U.S. do not have to pay this additional fee to see the movie. Information on additional fees for “Mulan” might vary in countries where Disney+ is available.
Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the comedy/drama/fantasy film “Four Kids and It” features a predominantly white cast (with some black people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A British man and his American girlfriend go on a blended family vacation together for the first time with their respective children, who secretly discover an ancient talking creature that can make wishes come true.
Culture Audience: “Four Kids and It” is a family film that children under the age of 10 might enjoy, but older kids and adults might be bored with the often-dull, awkward and predictable storyline.
In case you think the world still doesn’t have enough family films that are about non-human talking creatures, here comes another one that unfortunately will be relegated to the “forgettable” pile. “Four Kids and It” (directed by Andy DeEmmony) is an utterly predictable and frequently boring mush of mediocrity that won’t be the type of “addictive” viewing that can be described for so many beloved family-friendly films.
The screenplay for “Four Kids and It” (clumsily written by Simon Lewis) is adapted from Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 children’s novel “Four Children and It,” which was inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 children’s novel “Five Children and It.” The movie version is a far inferior version of the book, since it adds an irritating new character that mucks up the story and actually makes it more confusing to the people unfamiliar with the novels.
“Four Kids and It” begins by showing two different divorced parents with their respective kids. David (played by Matthew Goode) is a British father of 13-year-old book enthusiast Rosalind, nicknamed Ros (played by Teddie Malleson-Allen) and adventurous 9-year-old Robbie (played by Billy Jenkins). Alice (played by Paula Patton) is an American mother of 13-year-old rebellious brat Samantha, nicknamed Smash (played by Ashley Aufderheide), and sweet-natured 5-year-old Maudie (played by Ellie-Mae Siame).
What do they all have in common? They’re all about to go on holiday together at an English countryside beach, where they’ll be staying at David’s vacation home. It’s at this beach that the kids will meet the aforementioned talking creature, which doesn’t show itself when the parents are around. And what the children also don’t know yet is the true intention for David and Alice to arrange this trip.
Alice and David have been secretly dating each other. The vacation will be the first time that this couple will tell their kids about the relationship and introduce the kids to each other. Can you say “awkward”? It’s a big departure from the “Four Children and It” book, where David and Alice are both British and already married to each other, after divorces from their first spouses, and Maudie is their biological child together. In the book, David is Smash’s stepfather, while Alice is Ros and Robbie’s stepmother.
Because the movie adds this new plot element of David’s and Alice’s kids not knowing each other before this fateful vacation, there’s quite a bit of screen time spent on all the conflicts that ensue because of this uncomfortable situation—so much so, that all of this manufactured drama for the movie unfolds long before the kids even see the talking creature that’s supposed to be the catalyst for the adventure part of the story. The opening scenes of the film make it clear that two of the kids are definitely going to clash with each other.
Ros is a studious, obedient bookworm who aspires to be a famous novelist. She’s shown at a library, where a librarian asks Ros if she’s started on her novel yet. Ros replies that whatever she’s written has ended up as crumpled paper in a trash bin—an indication that she’s a perfectionist who’s very hard on herself. And what book does Ros check out of the library? “Five Children and It,” of course.
Meanwhile, Smash is hanging out with a group of boys outside a seedy-looking area. This group looks like it might be a bad influence on her. Alice arrives in her car to retrieve Smash, who reluctantly leaves with her mother, but not before mouthing off some choice words to Alice in a rude and insolent manner.
Smash is a very angry girl. Why? Smash’s father left the family to live with a woman who’s much younger than Alice. Smash blames Alice for the family breaking up, because she thinks that Alice drove Smash’s father away by being a nagging shrew. Of course, it’s shown later in the movie that Smash has a very lofty and misguided opinion of her father (who’s only heard on the phone, but not seen in the story), because in reality he’s an irresponsible jerk who constantly breaks his promises to see Smash.
Smash also hates living in England. She complains about British food and calls the United Kingdom a “sucky little country.” Smash is the very epitome of the type of “ugly American” who disrespects other cultures. And she’s a nightmare to be around, since she likes to instigate fights and cause problems with other people.
The only person Smash doesn’t really get angry with in the story is her little sister Maudie. Everyone else at some point becomes a target of Smash’s rage. Alice is part of the problem, since she enables a lot of this brat’s awful behavior.
David and Alice arrive separately at the beach home with their respective kids. And then, the couple drops the big news to the four children. All of the kids (except for Maudie, who’s too young to know everything) react with shock and disappointment over finding out that their parents have moved on from their ex-spouses and found love with someone new.
It’s a lot for the kids to absorb, because Alice has never met David’s kids before, David has never met Alice’s kids before, and vice versa. And then the kids have now just found out that Alice and David have been secretly dating each other for a while. (The movie doesn’t say how long David and Alice have been in a romantic relationship with each other.) And now, they’re all supposed to be on this vacation like one big happy family. You don’t have to be in a poorly written family film to know this is a recipe for disaster.
Not surprisingly, Smash has the angriest reaction to the news, so there’s a lot of yelling and screaming from her. Smash and Ros despise each other from the beginning, because Smash has declared that one of the house’s bedrooms is hers, even though Ros has always stayed in that bedroom before. The two girls have a knock-down, drag-out fight, while David tries to break it up, and Alice barely does anything to stop Smash from being the terror that she is.
In fact, Alice is a horribly permissive parent who doesn’t discipline Smash when Smash (who’s obviously a loathsome bully) yells at her disrespectfully and says and does mean-spirited things to Ros and Robbie. More than once, Smash yells at Alice, “You’ve ruined my life!” when, by all indications, Smash is leading a pretty comfortable and spoiled life.
“Four Kids and It” screenwriter Lewis seems dead-set on making Smash the teenager from hell, because there’s a lot of emphasis on the fact that Smash is an unruly, uncouth American, while Ros and Robbie are polite British kids. If Ros or Robbie get angry in this story, it’s usually because Smash provoked them. In one scene in the movie, Smash utters another insult about British people by saying that they have flat rear ends, while Ros snaps back that American people’s rear ends are too big. This is what’s supposed to be “funny” in “Four Kids and It.”
When Smash sees that Ros has brought some books on this trip, Smash sneers at Ros, “Who brings books on a holiday?” Ros replies, “People who can read.” Smash snaps back, “People with no lives!”
The movie is updated from the book to show that Smash is someone whose idea of reading is whatever she reads on her phone. Smash is obsessed with her phone. She’s written as a negative cliché of a teenager who cares more about what strangers online think of her and increasing her social-media following rather than caring about treating people in her real life with respect. And even though Maudie is a kind-hearted little kid, being only 5 years old, she’s obviously portrayed as too young/too ignorant to know any better about what goes on with some of the more adult-themed situations in this story.
Alice and her family are African American, so there are some some racial undertones in how they’re portrayed as the least intelligent characters in the movie. It just fuels negative stereotypes that an African American family that’s headed by a single mother is somehow problematic. The movie makes it clear later on that Smash’s father is a deadbeat dad who’s abandoned the family, which is yet another negative cliché of African American men.
David’s ex-wife (Ros and Robbie’s mother) has also also left her family, is emotionally unavailable, and is unseen in the movie but heard in a phone call. (Ros has a delusional hope that her parents will get back together someday.) But David’s ex-wife is given a “noble” excuse for why she doesn’t visit her children as much as they’d like her to visit: She’s away at a university to “find herself” and get a better education. There’s no real excuse given for why Smash’s father is an absentee parent, because he’s simply portrayed as being selfish.
Alice is portrayed as a single mother who’s not very smart, not very competent, and more concerned about making out with David than paying attention to her kids. She’s also a terrible cook—and that doesn’t make her a bad person—but Alice’s lack of cooking skills is a running joke in the movie, which has this sexist idea that because Alice is the only woman in the house, she’s the only one who’s supposed to do the cooking.
“Four Kids and It” is so badly written that it doesn’t even mention what Alice and David do for a living, or why Alice has moved to England with her kids. There’s no context for how David and Alice met and why they’re together. And since the movie never mentions how long Alice and David have been dating each other, there’s no way to know why they chose to have such an abrupt and uncomfortable introduction to each other’s children. It’s poor judgment, regardless of how long Alice and David have been in a relationship with each other.
The movie has also added a new character that’s not in the book: Tristan Trent (played by Russell Brand), a rich recluse who lives in a nearby mansion. Tristan has stocked his cluttered mansion with enough taxidermy animals and ancient artifacts to make his home look like a museum. It’s a sign that he’s an obsessive collector who might stop at nothing to get his hands on priceless treasure. Cue the villain music.
Tristan introduces himself to David, Alice and the kids. He appears to be pleasant and is an obvious eccentric. Tristan invites them to his mansion. In yet another “polite Brit/rude American” contrast that this movie keeps making, David comments to Trent about Trent’s home: “It’s charming.” But Alice blurts out to Trent that his home décor is “old” and “kind of worn-looking. It must be a British thing.”
When the four kids encounter the creature on the beach for the first time, their parents are far away at another part of the beach. Smash has grabbed Robbie’s game device and cruelly thrown it on some dangerous cliff rocks that Robbie has to climb in order to get the device. The creature, which calls itself Psammead (pronounced “Sammy-add” and voiced by Michael Caine), has lived deep in the beach sand for millions of years. In the movie, the creature moves through the sand as if it’s a Jaws-like shark in the ocean.
The kids notice this unusual movement and manage to pull Psammead out of the sand by one of its legs. In the book, Psammead is supposed to be a sand fairy. In the movie, Psammead looks more like E.T.’s great-grandfather. The visual effects in this movie aren’t bad, but they’re not that great either.
It isn’t long before Psammead reveals to the children that he has magical powers to make wishes come true. The catch is that each person can get only one wish, and that wish expires by sunset on the day that the wish comes true. And as with a lot of movies that are aimed at kids, there’s a fart joke, because Psammead inflates himself and passes gas before he grants a wish.
The first wish that Psammead grants for the kids is Robbie’s wish to be able to be an expert climber. The next thing you know, Robbie is scaling the cliff rocks like he’s Spider-Man, and he retrieves his game device. The kids keep Psammead a secret from their parents and make other wishes over the next few days.
Smash’s wish is to become a world-famous pop star, so there’s an elaborate scene of Ros, Robbie and Maudie being whisked away to London in a hot-pink, custom helicopter that has Smash’s face painted on the side of the aircraft. In London, they’re VIP guests at Smash’s sold-out concert at the O2 Arena. Backstage before the show, Smash is catered to like a superstar. (Real-life British pop star Cheryl has a cameo in this scene as a pop singer named Coco Rayne.)
And then, Smash does a big song-and-dance routine for her concert before an ecstatic audience of thousands of people. It’s a performance that looks like something out of a TV talent show. And this scene has obvious CGI effects, since this movie obviously didn’t have the budget to rent out the O2 Arena and have thousands of extras to film this scene.
The kids lose track of time and encounter a major problem because Smash’s wish ends at sunset, thereby abruptly ending the concert. The helicopter and chauffeured transportation are gone, and the children have to scramble to find their way back to the beach house. Not surprisingly, their parents notice that the kids are missing, the police get involved, and the expected chaos and confusion ensue.
Maudie’s wish is pretty simple: the ability for all four of the kids to fly. And Ros’ wish involves going back in time and meeting the five children who were in the “Five Children and It” book: Cyril (played by Seán Treacy), Robert (played by Ely Sloan), Anthea (played by Emily Highams), Jane (played by Laura Kate Whyms) and baby boy Lamb (played by Leo and Jack Mulrooney-O’Brien).
There’s a subplot involving Tristan and a conflict that he has with the four kids. This part of the story makes the movie more of a convoluted mess, so this subplot won’t be described here, but it does lead to a very predictable conclusion.
Did the venerable, Oscar-winning actor Caine know when he signed on to this movie that it would turn out to be such a lackluster dud? Probably not. Fans of this actor will probably be a little disturbed that he ended up being the voice for such an odd-looking creature with a personality that isn’t very appealing. Psammead’s attitude with the children ranges from condescending to impatient to resigned, as in “Okay, I’ll do what you want. Just stop pestering me.”
British actor/comedian Brand is an acquired taste for a lot of people, so many viewers will either find him annoying or ineffective in his role as Tristan. Brand used to be known as an edgy and fairly controversial comedian who wouldn’t be caught dead in a children’s movie. Times have definitely changed.
As for the other actors in the cast, Malleson-Allen as Ros is best at making her character the most believable and relatable. As Ros’ nemesis Smash, Aufderheide is saddled with portraying an awful character—and unfortunately, Aufderheide over-acts in some scenes, which make Smash even more annoying to watch. The rest of the cast members do a serviceable but mostly unremarkable job with their roles.
“Four Children and It” author Wilson has a brief cameo during the film’s end credits, which might be overlooked if people experiencing this slow train-wreck of a movie don’t have the stomach to finish watching it. If you really won’t feel complete in life unless you see a movie with a decrepit E.T.-like creature voiced by a cranky-sounding Sir Michael Caine, as this creature makes wishes come true for quarreling children, then by all means watch “Four Kids and It.”
Lionsgate released “Four Kids and It” on DVD, Blu-ray, digital and VOD on June 30, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in France, England and briefly in Morocco, Afghanistan and South Sudan, the action flick “The Old Guard” has a racially diverse cast (white, black and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Immortal social-justice warriors battle against a greedy corporate mogul and his mercenaries who want to capture the immortals so that their special powers can be mined for profits.
Culture Audience: “The Old Guard” will appeal primarily to fans of Charlize Theron and people who like extra-violent superhero movies with underlying social messages.
With so many superhero movies and TV shows flooding the market, what makes “The Old Guard” stand out from the pack is that morality and alliances aren’t always as cut-and-dry as they are in other superhero stories about good versus evil. Although there’s plenty of thrilling action in “The Old Guard,” what will keep audiences coming back for more are the protagonists’ distinct personalities and the feeling that their background stories have fascinating layers of extra intrigue.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka (he adapted the screenplay from his “The Old Guard” graphic novel series), “The Old Guard” movie starts off by introducing a tight-knit group of four immortal social-justice warriors who have lived for centuries but play by their own rules. These immortals have the enigmatic ability to have any of their wounds heal quickly, which is why these fighters are virtually indestructible when they are physically attacked.
They don’t know how they got their superpowers and they don’t know when their superpowers will stop working. But they got these superpowers at some point in their lives when they were supposed to die but instead mysteriously recovered. They can feel pain when wounded, and someone who has these newly acquired superpowers will not be able to heal as quickly as someone who’s had these superpowers longer. Technically, these immortals aren’t really “immortal,” because they can’t live forever, but they have the ability to live for centuries.
All of this information is not explained up front in “The Old Guard” movie, but instead these details are revealed in bits and pieces, much like the personalities of main players involved. The group’s leader (and the one who’s lived the longest) is Andromache the Scythian, nicknamed Andy (played by Charlize Theron), a tough-as-nails cynic who’s more afraid of being exposed and captured than she is of dying.
Andy’s right-hand man in the group is Booker (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), an adventurous French soldier, who became an immortal during the War of 1812. Rounding out the quartet are lovers/soul mates Joe (played Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (played by Luca Marinelli), a Middle Eastern man and an Italian man who became immortal while they were fighting on opposite sides of the Crusades. In this movie, Andy won’t say when she became immortal.
Booker is similar to Andy in having a certain jaded quality to his personality, but Booker is a lot more impulsive than Andy, who is always on guard about their group being exposed as immortals. Joe is more vocal and overtly passionate than Nicky, who tends to be more level-headed and sensitive. Together, they have been a “found family” for centuries.
Andy and her group make money as underground hired mercenaries for people or causes that they feel comfortable helping. While in Marrakesh, Morocco, a former CIA agent named James Copley (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) asks the group to help him rescue a group of 17 South Sudanese students (ages 8 to 13), who were kidnapped by militia, who murdered the teachers in the school. At first, Andy doesn’t want to do the mission. “We don’t do repeats,” she tells Booker, “It’s too risky.”
However, Andy changes her mind after she Copley (a widower whose wife died of ALS) tells her that food and water have not ben brought into the hostage area for several days. Andy and her crew travel to South Sudan. And this rescue mission leads the immortals to find out that they’re being hunted by a nerdy but ruthless leader of a corporate pharmaceutical company: Steven Merrick (played by Harry Melling) of Merrick Pharmacy.
Merrick wants to capture all the known immortals on Earth, so Merrick’s team of scientists can figure out and extract that physical components that can heal wounds and make people live for centuries. Merrick thinks he’s in a race against time because he wants to get the patent on this superpower product before any of the company’s competitors. The ultimate goal? Untold wealth and power.
Merrick has also begun selling a new pharmaceutical product that caused thousands of lab rats to die, and this new product’s flaws will soon be discovered by the general public. If he can find the secret to these immortals’ regeneration powers, it can be used as an antidote to the faulty pharmaceutical product that Merrick rushed to market.
Meanwhile, the quartet of immortals begins having shared dreams of a young lieutenant in the U.S. Marines named Nile Freeman (played by KiKi Layne), who is currently stationed in Afghanistan. They’re certain that Nile is a long-lost immortal who doesn’t know it yet. While in Afghanistan, Nile is part of a military team that captures a known terrorist who’s hiding in a small village dwelling.
The terrorist slashes Nile’s throat in such a deep and vicious way that it seems obvious that Nile will die from that jugular wound. However, not only does she survive, but the wound mysteriously disappears. Nile explains to her incredulous fellow soldiers that doctors were able to cover up her neck wound with a “skin graft,” but even Nile knows how unbelievable that story sounds. People who thought she was going to die start to look at her differently, as if she’s some kind of supernatural freak.
As Nile is still trying to figure out why she seems to have regeneration superpowers, she’s told that she’s going to be transferred to another station for further medical exams. Before that can happen, Andy abducts Nile and takes her to a remote desert area. Andy tells a disbelieving Nile that Nile is now an immortal who has to go into hiding with Andy and her group of immortals because they are being hunted.
Nile is reluctant to go with this stranger, who tells Nile that she will have to cut off contact with her family. Nile is also having a hard time believing that she’s now immortal until some vigorous physical fights with Andy prove that Andy is telling the truth. But just like a stubborn pupil who won’t listen to a teacher who knows best, Nile clashes with Andy several times because Nile has a lot of difficulty adjusting to her new life.
During the course of the story, Nile opens up to Andy and the rest of the immortals, while they do the same with her. It’s revealed that Andy’s biggest heartache and regret is how she couldn’t save her best friend Quynh (played by Van Veronica Ngo) from being put in an iron lady cage and buried in the ocean about 500 years ago, when Andy and Quynh were captured and persecuted for being witches.
Meanwhile, Booker is haunted by outliving his children, one of whom was a son who died of cancer in his early 40s. When Booker told his terminally ill son about his secret superpower, Booker was heartbroken over not being able to share that superpower with his dying son, who angrily and wrongly blamed Booker for not being able to save him from death. It’s one of the reasons why Andy thinks it’s a mistake to get too close to any “regular” human who might find out the immortals’ secrets.
As for Nile’s family, she was raised by a widowed mother after Nile’s military father died in combat when Nile was 11 years old. Because Nile cannot contact her family after joining Andy’s group, Nile feels a lot of reluctance and emotional conflict about what her life will be like from now on.
“The Old Guard” has a lot of expected violence and over-the-top stunts (some of the action scenes are more believable than others), but the movie’s real strength is conveying the “grass is always greener” frailties of human nature. Merrick and many others just like him think that people will be happier if they will never get sick and can live for centuries, while the ones who actually have the ability to live that long see it as a curse.
Through the immortals’ perspectives, “The Old Guard” shows that living for centuries can be emotionally exhausting. Death (which is feared by so many people) is a natural part of life that they haven’t been able to experience, thereby making them “eternal freaks.” However, on the flip side—as exemplified by Joe and Nicky—if two immortals find each other and become soul mates, death isn’t as easily welcomed.
Unlike other immortal “superheroes,” the superheroes in this story don’t know how long they can keep their superpowers, which can fade and eventually disappear, much like how a battery eventually loses its power. It’s that added element of the unknown that keeps things on edge. (The movie’s visual effects for the body regeneration scenes are very good and very believable.)
Theron (who is one of the producers of “The Old Guard”) has done plenty of action movies before—most notably 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and 2017’s “Atomic Blonde”—so it’s no surprise that she can light up the screen with her commanding presence. Theron’s Andy character is the most intriguing of Theron’s action characters so far because Andy literally has centuries of stories to tell about her life. Layne does an impressive job of holding her own as Andy’s very reluctant protégée. It’s great to see Layne take on such a different role from her feature-film debut in 2018’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a heartbreaking drama in which she played a loyal girlfriend of a wrongly imprisoned man.
“The Old Guard” has grittiness and bloody violence that definitely don’t make this a family-friendly superhero movie. This is also a superhero movie that acknowledges real-world historical issues. The Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and the Civil War in the United States are two examples of the many history-making events that are referenced in this story, because these superhero soldiers were involved in some way in being on the right side of history.
And unlike most other superhero movies that don’t acknowledge homophobia in the world, “The Old Guard” has a scene where Joe and Nicky confront this bigotry in a way that will make romantics applaud. Joe and Nicky’s love story is one of the reasons why fans of this movie will want a sequel. And you better believe that the ending of “The Old Guard” makes it obvious that the filmmakers plan to make “The Old Guard” into a movie series.
This superhero saga might not satisfy people who want to know how the heroes got their superpowers. And these protagonists definitely aren’t saint-like: Their underground status means they often have to collaborate with criminals to get things done, such as in a scene where Andy and Nile use a Russian drug runner’s plane to get to where they need to go. But for people who might be intrigued by a story about warriors who are still trying to figure out their lives after living and fighting battles for centuries, “The Old Guard” offers an immersive experience into that world.
Netflix premiered “The Old Guard” on July 10, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and a magical underground world, the fantasy adventure “Artemis Fowl” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black and Asian) who portray humans, fairies, dwarves and goblins.
Culture Clash: A 12-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl, who must save his kidnapped father from an evil fairy, kidnaps a good fairy as bait for the ransom, setting off a battle between fairies and humans.
Culture Audience: “Artemis Fowl” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Artemis Fowl” book series who won’t mind watching a movie adaptation that is inferior to the books’ storytelling.
The “Harry Potter” books and films have set the bar pretty high for what can be achieved in making young-adult fantasy novels into movies. By comparison, “Artemis Fowl” is a mediocre mess of a film that clearly spent a lot of time on visual effects but not enough time in doing justice to the kind of storytelling that author Eoin Colfer has in his “Artemis Fowl” books. Almost everything that happens in the “Artemis Fowl” movie can be predicted by people in their sleep.
The long-delayed “Artemis Fowl” movie was supposed to be released in theaters, but instead was released directly to the Disney+ streaming service, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who’s hit-and-miss artistically when it comes to his big-budget films), “Artemis Fowl” isn’t the worst fantasy film that someone can ever see, but it’s a disappointing movie, considering the level of talent involved. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl wrote the clunky “Artemis Fowl” screenplay, which is supposed to be an origin story, but the movie is highly unlikely to get a sequel.
The story takes place in Ireland, in an alternate modern reality where humans live above ground, while fairies and other creatures live in a below-ground place called Haven City. The movie begins with the news media in a frenzy because several priceless artifacts from around the world have been stolen. The chief suspect is a reclusive businessman/art dealer named Artemis Fowl Sr. (played by Colin Farrell), who lives in a mansion called Fowl Manor and who has mysteriously disappeared.
However, a suspected accomplice has been arrested: an oversized, thieving dwarf named Mulch Diggums (played by Josh Gad), who’s self-conscious over the fact that he’s much taller and bigger than the average dwarf. Mulch is taken to the MI6 Red Fort Interrogation Unit in Thames Estuary, London, where he begins to tell the story of Artemis Fowl Jr. (played by Ferdia Shaw), a precocious 12-year-old loner who’s frequently left to his own devices because his father goes away for long periods of time on secretive trips.
The Artemis Fowl father and son have a close relationship, but Artemis Jr. feels hurt and left out that his father won’t tell him where he’s going on these trips and exactly when he’ll be back. (Artemis Jr.’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.) Artemis Jr. has a friend/mentor/bodyguard named Domovoi Butler (played by Nonzo Anozie), who tells people that he hates to be called a butler. Domovoi has a relationship with Artemis Jr. that’s similar to the “Batman” story relationship between Alfred the butler and Bruce Wayne/Batman.
As Mulch tells it, Artemis Jr. doesn’t like school very much. He’s considered “different” and has found it difficult to make friends. There’s somewhat of an unnecessary scene where Artemis Jr. is talking to a school counselor, and then Artemis storms out because he thinks the counselor doesn’t understand him and the session is a waste of time.
Considering that Artemis Jr. spends the rest of the movie fighting battles like an adult, going to school isn’t a priority to him. It also didn’t make sense to show him at school in this movie because a kid like Artemis Fowl would probably be homeschooled, considering his father’s secretive and reclusive life. Why bother with nosy teachers and students?
At any rate, Artemis Jr. soon gets a phone call from the evil fairy who’s kidnapped his father. Let that sink in for a few seconds and try not to laugh at how dumb that plot sounds. We’ll have to assume they have caller ID blocking in Haven City.
The evil fairy tells Artemis Jr. that his father will be killed unless the fairy (an unnamed androgynous creature who’s in disguise with the creature’s face obscured) gets the ransom: a magical object called the Aculos, which has the power to open portals across the universe. The evil fairy tells Artemis Sr. that he’s been kidnapped as revenge for causing the deaths of some other fairies.
Artemis Jr. then comes up with a somewhat convoluted plan to get the good fairies of Haven City to help him find the Aculos. How? By kidnapping a fairy named Holly Short (played by Lara McDonnell), an enforcement officer who’s supposed to be 84 years old in fairy years, but she looks close to the age of Artemis Jr. (All of the fairies are human-sized.)
The good fairies, led by gravel-voiced Commander Root (played by Judi Dench, in yet another no-nonsense, unsmiling role), then descend upon Fowl Manor to rescue Holly. The fairies have the magical power of creating a force field around a certain area, where everyone in the force field can be temporarily frozen and have their memories erased.
This power is demonstrated in a scene where a giant troll crashes a wedding reception in Italy and attempts to kidnap a child and the good fairies come to the rescue. It’s an example of how this unfocused movie literally jumps all over the place.
But apparently, having magical powers isn’t enough for the fairies, because they also have a massive technology center at Haven City, complete with huge video monitors and computers. How very Earth-like. Except it’s not, because their chief technology officer is a fairy centaur named Foaly (played by Nikesh Patel).
And who else has teamed up with Artemis Jr. and Domovoi to help them fight off this large army of fairies? Domovoi’s 12-year-old niece Juliet Butler (played by Tamara Smart), who’s got martial-arts combat skills. The three allies are outnumbered, but they have some tech gadgets and guns for their battles—although the guns don’t seem to actually kill anyone, because Disney can’t have a movie with 12-year-old kids on a murder spree.
Mulch’s narration comes and goes in the story, which includes a scene of Mulch in a prison cell full of goblins who are hostile to him. It’s an example of a poorly written scene that seems to have no purpose other than to show Mulch in an uncomfortable situation and the visual effects of when he uses his magical ability to over-expand his mouth.
All of the actors do a serviceable job in their roles, although McDonnell frequently outshines her co-stars in her scenes. There are a few lines that might give people a chuckle, such as when a gruff Commander Root barks to subordinates, “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!” The way she slightly pauses before she says “four-leaf clover” makes it clear she could have said another “f” word, and then it would definitely not be a Disney movie.
The visual effects and production design of “Artemis Fowl” are good enough, but they won’t be nominated for any major awards. Because there is so little character development in the movie, the action scenes are really what bring the most appeal to the film. Kids under the age of 10 might enjoy “Artemis Fowl,” but people with more discerning taste in fantasy films won’t find “Artemis Fowl” very impressive. “Artemis Fowl” might just make people want to watch an old “Harry Potter” movie instead.
Disney+ premiered “Artemis Fowl” on June 12, 2020.
Culture Representation: Set in the fictional DC Comics city of Gotham, “Birds of Prey” has a racially diverse, female-centric cast of characters, ranging from heroes to villains.
Culture Clash: Harley Quinn, the story’s narrator and central character, is a supervillain who’s sometimes an ally of the heroic characters—and those ethical blurred lines can cause conflicts.
Culture Audience: “Birds of Prey” will appeal primarily to fans of comic-book-inspired movies if they are willing to tolerate this film’s preference for flashy visuals over a compelling story.
“Birds of Prey” is a wildly uneven action film that’s as unstable and wacky as its central character and narrator—the supervillain antihero Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), who’s stepping out of the shadow of her ex-boyfriend Joker to inflict her own brand of over-the-top mayhem. Even though the movie is called “Birds of Prey,” based on DC Comics’ all-female group of superhero crimebusters, make no mistake: Harley Quinn is the real star of the show. A more accurate title for this movie should have been “Harley Quinn Featuring Birds of Prey.”
Australian actress Robbie (who’s one of the movie’s producers and who dons a Brooklyn-ish accent for Harley) first appeared as scene-stealing Harley Quinn in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” It was inevitable that Harley Quinn would get her own movie, but Robbie performs in this film as if it’s a slapstick comedy, while the other actors take their roles in the more serious direction that almost all the other DC Comics-based movies have.
It’s that erratic tone to “Birds of Prey” that will be off-putting to comic-book purists who have been frustrated with how DC Comics-based feature films have inconsistently portrayed Gotham, which is the city of Batman, Joker, Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad. Is Gotham the dark and pessimistic world that’s on the verge of imploding from its own corruption, as seen in Christopher Nolan’s and Zack Snyder’s “Batman” movies and Todd Phillips’ “Joker”? Or is Gotham the spooky retro-noir environment of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies? Or is it the sewage-and-chemical-infested toxic dump of “Suicide Squad”?
In “Birds of Prey,” Gotham is none of those things. It’s basically a nihilistic playground for Harley and the movie’s chief villain, the flamboyantly malicious Roman Sionis (played by Ewan McGregor, who gives the campiest performance of his career so far), a nightclub owner who wants revenge on Harley at the same time that he wants power over her. Roman, who’s also known as Black Mask, has a thing for torturing people by cutting off masks of flesh from their faces.
“Birds of Prey” is the second feature film from director Cathy Yan, who previously helmed the little-seen, independent dark comedy “Dead Pigs,” which was a critical hit when it had its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It’s extremely rare for a director to go from a micro-budget indie for a debut movie and then get the opportunity to direct a major-studio franchise film with a blockbuster budget. And perhaps that relative lack of directing experience was a hindrance, because “Birds of Prey” has some shockingly bad continuity problems.
For example, at the beginning of a scene where Harley Quinn ends up getting chased through the streets of Gotham by determined cop Renee Montoya (played by Rosie Perez), Harley is wearing mismatched shoes: one rainbow-colored shoe with a flat heel and one light-colored shoe with a high heel. But by the end of the chase scene, Harley is wearing matching shoes: the rainbow-covered, flat-heeled shoes. A few minutes after that scene, Renee goes back to the police station with pieces of garbage in her hair and on her clothes, due to the messy chase after Harley, but in cutaway shots, the garbage that was seen in her hair just seconds earlier is now missing.
The screenplay by Christina Hodson is also fairly problematic. For starters, the story has Harley Quinn feuding with too many people. There’s Harley Quinn vs. Roman Sionis. There’s Harley Quinn vs. Renee Montoya, one of the Birds of Prey. There’s Harley Quinn vs. Cassandra Cain, the young thief who has a rare diamond that Roman wants, so Harley basically has to kidnap Cassandra to get it. (Cassandra is played by Ella Jay Bosco, in her film debut, who spends most of the movie looking shocked and scared.)
And at different points in the movie, Harley is also at odds with two of the other Birds of Prey: Dinah Lance (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell), also known as Black Canary, a singer at Roman’s nightclub, as well as Helena Bertinelli (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), also known as Huntress, a crossbow-slinging assassin who has a mysterious past that’s revealed in the movie to also be connected to the diamond. Black Canary doesn’t start off as a hero in the movie, since her loyalties flip-flop under pressure from her boss Roman. As for Huntress, she spends most of the film as an aloof loner who’s also caught up in finding the diamond.
About that search for the diamond: It’s got to be one of the worst ideas in recent years for the main conflict in a comic-book movie. Roman wants the diamond because it supposedly will give him the power to bribe people to do what he wants. Therefore, he kidnaps Harley and forces her to get the diamond for him. It doesn’t make much sense, but neither does most of this erratic movie, which includes a random musical sequence inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” And where the diamond ends up being hidden is like something out of an Adam Sandler movie that’s fixated on bodily functions.
Although there are some comical moments in “Birds of Prey,” other attempts at humor fall very flat. The film relies too much on flashbacks told from Harley’s point of view, and she’s not exactly a reliable or coherent narrator. The movie’s violence and stunts are very cartoonish, but the action sequences are nevertheless the best parts of the film. If you can suspend your disbelief that Harley can take down five to eight muscle-bound, usually armed men at once, just by doing a bunch of gravity-defying cartwheels, flips and spins and by swinging her baseball bat, then you’ll have fun watching this kind of spectacle. Harley even manages to mow down several bad guys while she’s wearing roller skates, thanks to her experiences playing roller derby, which is shown at the beginning of the movie.
What’s less fun is watching moments of pure tedium and ridiculousness when the characters stand around and talk in the middle of major physical showdowns with their opponents. People of “Birds of Prey”: Take a cue from John Wick. He’s not going to suddenly strike up a conversation in the middle of kicking someone’s ass.
And there are a few things that are introduced in the “Birds of Prey” movie that are underused story ideas. For example, Harley gets a hyena named Bruce (named after Bruce Wayne), but the canine is nothing more than a pet that’s left at her home and brought out for Harley to show off to visitors. In the comic books, Harley has two hyenas that have much more active roles in her adventures. Black Canary also has a special power which she could have used much earlier in the film, but she doesn’t use it until it’s almost too late.
“Birds of Prey” might look like a feel-good feminist film on the surface, but there’s a lot of mean-spirited cattiness among the women for most of the movie. They don’t join forces until almost the very end, when the movie has its best action sequence. It’s a little bit of a slog to get to that point, and the movie would have been a lot better if Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey really were a team much earlier in the story.
And although the movie has a message of female empowerment, it shouldn’t be at the expense of making almost all the men in the film to be insufferable jerks and/or criminals. And there are some cringeworthy lines in the film, such as when Harley utters, “Nothing gets a guy’s attention like violence.” All of this male-bashing is just so unnecessary. Making almost all of the men look bad in this movie is also a turnoff to people who like to see a well-rounded variety of characters of any gender.
If you’re a die-hard fan of comic-book-based movies and if you have to see “Birds of Prey,” just know in advance that although it tries very hard to capture the type of irreverent adult humor that the first “Deadpool” movie had, “Birds of Prey” is really just a female-led diamond heist movie. We already had “Ocean’s 8,” thank you very much.
Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” on February 7, 2020.
UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has moved up the digital release of “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” to March 24, 2020.
World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 29, 2019.
Prime Video’s “The Boys” series couldn’t have come at a better time, when superhero movies have been dominating the box office, and the lead characters in the movies have legions of devoted fans around the world. “The Boys,” based on the graphic-novel series of the same name, explores what it would be like to live in a world where over-worshipped superheroes abuse their fame and power. Based on the pilot episode of “The Boys” that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Prime Video could have its first big superhero-themed hit.
The main protagonists of “The Boys” aren’t even superheroes. They’re mere mortals who want to expose the corrupt superheroes because of personal vendettas they have against them. Hughie Campbell (played by Jack Quaid) is a mild-mannered employee of an independent electronics store in New York City. It’s the type of store that’s rapidly disappearing in a retail economy that’s killed Radio Shack. Hughie seems to have a safe and predictable life. He and his girlfriend Robin (played by Jess Salgueiro) are very much in love, and although Hughie’s job doesn’t pay too well, it’s enough for him to get by comfortably, even if he still has to live with his single father (played by Simon Pegg).
Hughie’s world turns into a nightmare when his girlfriend is killed right in front of him in a freak accident. It’s because a lightning-speed superhero named A-Train (played by Jessie T. Usher) literally runs right through her while chasing a robber, and that leads to Robin’s gruesome death. A-Train runs so fast (just like DC Comics’ The Flash) that he didn’t even notice that he killed someone until he sees the bloody aftermath, and he makes a quick excuse that he has to leave in order to keep chasing after the robber.
A devastated Hughie tries to get justice from Vought International, the mega-corporation that manages and secretly covers up for the world’s top superheroes, including an elite group called The Seven. (The Seven is written as an obvious satire of DC Comics’ supergroup Justice League.) Vought is run by Madelyn Stillwell (played by Elizabeth Shue), a ruthless executive who puts on a façade of doing what’s best for the world, while hiding superheroes’ dirty secrets. Vought offers Hughie a $45,000 settlement to not sue over Robin’s death, but he refuses. A-Train gives a half-hearted public apology, but Hughie is not convinced the apology is sincere. Hughie isn’t so mild-mannered anymore. He’s heartbroken, bitter, and out for revenge. He just doesn’t know what to do about it yet.
Meanwhile, in Des Moines, Iowa, a naïve young woman named Annie January (played by Erin Moriarty) is training to become a superhero, much like a girl would train for an event that’s a combination of an athletic competition and a beauty pageant. She’s hoping she’ll be the chosen one to replace Lamplighter, one of the superheroes who is retiring from The Seven. What happens to this young superhero will set in motion much of the action for the rest of the series. She joins The Seven under the new identity Starlight, a character clearly inspired by Supergirl.
Not long after Starlight joins The Seven, Hughie unexpectedly meets Billy Butcher (played by Karl Urban), a no-nonsense badass who crashes into Hughie’s store. Billy says that he’s part of a secret vigilante group called The Boys, whose goal is to hold law-breaking superheroes accountable for their misdeeds. Hughie wants in on the action, but Billy wants Hughie to prove himself first.
Billy tells Hughie that all of the superheroes are corrupt except Homelander (played by Antony Starr), the leader of The Seven, an alpha-male, patriotic type who has the superhero ability to fly, just like Superman. But is Homelander really a good guy or has Billy been fooled into thinking he is?
Other characters from The Seven that are introduced in this pilot episode include The Deep (played by Chace Crawford), an Aquaman-type heartthrob who’s secretly a creep abusing his power through sexual harassment; Black Noir (played by Nathan Mitchell), a mysterious silent type; Translucent (played by Alex Hassell), who can make himself invisible, similar to the DC Comics character Negative Man, and uses this ability to be a perverted Peeping Tom; and Queen Maeve (played by Dominique McElligott), a tough-but-tender alpha female, similar to Wonder Woman, who shows signs that she’s not as committed to The Seven’s corrupt ways as the rest of the group.
Translucent is not in “The Boys” comic books, so his storyline in the TV series is the least-easiest to predict. Advance teaser footage of “The Boys” shows Translucent imprisoned in a cage. The Prime Video series also has some other differences from “The Boys” comic books (which were created by writer Garth Ennis and illustrator Darick Robertson), but that spoiler information won’t be included here.
Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver, Ori Marmur, Ken F. Levin and Jason Netter are among the executive producers of “The Boys.” They previously adapted a popular graphic-novel series to television with AMC’s “Preacher.” Other executive producers of “The Boys” are Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”), Neal H. Moritz (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) and Pavun Shetty (CBS’s “S.W.A.T.”).
Based on the pilot episode of “The Boys,” this series is going full-throttle with sex, drugs, adult language and violence. Now that Prime Video has canceled the superhero comedy series “The Tick” (which didn’t really click with audiences, after two seasons), “The Boys” can step in and fill that superhero series void with a rip-roaring abandon that’s a satirical kick in the face to superheroes who are too popular for their own good.
Prime Video will premiere the first season of “The Boys” on July 26, 2019.