Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing,’ starring Daisy Edgar-Jones

July 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Harris Dickinson in “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Columbia Pictures)

“Where the Crawdads Sing”

Directed by Olivia Newman

Culture Representation: Taking place in North Carolina, from 1952 to the early 2020s, the dramatic film “Where the Crawdads Sing” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In 1970, a 24-year-old woman goes on trial for murdering her ex-boyfriend, and her past as a poor and abandoned child is used against her in the trial.

Culture Audience: “Where the Crawdads Sing” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the book on which the movie is based, as well as to people who are interested in stories about how people of different social classes are treated in society.

Taylor John Smith and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Columbia Pictures)

“Where the Crawdads Sing” has a lot of timeline jumping that will either annoy or intrigue viewers. The movie (which starts off very slow) gets better as it goes along and is elevated by a distinctive lead performance by Daisy Edgar-Jones. Fans of Delia Owens’ 2018 novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” should be satisfied with this cinematic adaptation, while other people who haven’t read the book might have more mixed reactions.

Directed by Olivia Newman and written by Lucy Alibar, the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing” takes on the challenge of telling a story that spans several decades. Just like in the book, the movie takes place in North Carolina. (The movie was actually filmed in New Orleans.) However, the timelines in the book and movie are slightly different. In the book, the timeline goes from 1952 to 2010, whereas the movie’s timeline goes from 1952 to the early 2020s.

The beginning of the film has some editing that might confuse some viewers. The opening scene takes place in the fictional coastal town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, on the morning of October 30, 1969. Two boys riding their bicycles near a swamp have discovered the body of Chase Andrews (played by Harris Dickinson) underneath a fire tower. At the time of his death, Chase was in his mid-20s and a manager at a local auto dealership.

A medical examination shows that Chase banged his head from falling down the tower, and this head injury was fatal. However, police investigators have found no fingerprints nearby on the tower. And so, they’ve come the conclusion that Chase’s death was not an accident or suicide, and that whoever murdered him covered up the crime by wiping away fingerprints and getting rid of other evidence.

The movie then abruptly cuts to 23-year-old Kya Clark (played by Edgar-Jones) being chased down by law enforcement and put in jail. Inexplicably, a cat gets into her jail cell, and Kya cuddles with the cat for the night until the cat is taken away from her. Kya’s arrest for Chase’s murder is the talk of the town. Kya has a reputation for being a mysterious loner. And because she grew up poor, some people automatically think she’s trashy.

The evidence against Kya is very circumstantial. Kya does not have an alibi during the time frame (midnight to 2 a.m.) that investigators estimate was when Chase died on October 30, 1969. Not long before Chase died, he and Kya were seen having a fight outside that got violent. A witness saw Kya threaten to kill Chase if he ever came near her again. People close to Chase knew that he always wore a shell necklace that Kya had given to him, but the shell necklace was missing when his body was found.

On the night of Chase’s death, Kya was seen in her boat near the water tower. Kya denies it. She claims she was on a short business trip to see a book publisher in Greenville, North Carolina, and that she didn’t return to Barkley Cove until after Chase’s death. Witnesses say that they saw Kya leave and return from her trip by bus. However, she has no proof of where she was between midnight to 2 a.m. on October 30, 1969.

At a local bar, a retired attorney named Tom Milton (played by David Strathairn) is having a conversation with a few other locals about the case. Tom comments, “I’m retired. It’s not my business anymore.” But then, in another example of the movie’s not-so-great editing in the beginning of the film, Tom is then shown meeting with Kya and telling her that he wants to be her defense attorney.

The movie never bothers to explain how and why Tom changed his mind about coming out of retirement to represent Kya in this murder case. Very little is a told about Tom’s trial strategy for the case, or what kind of experience/background he has as a criminal defense attorney. If people are expecting scenes where Tom and Kya have meetings to discuss the case, forget it. Those scenes aren’t in the movie, except for a brief discussion where Kya tells Tom in no uncertain terms that she won’t take a plea bargain, which would have given her an approximate 10-year prison sentence.

What the movie does show are numerous flashbacks about what happened in Kya’s life before she went on trial for Chase’s murder, as well as riveting scenes from the trial that began in 1970. These flashbacks are not in chronological order, but the movie at least does show on screen the year in which a scene is supposed to take place. Viewers who are not paying full attention to “Where the Crawdads Sing” when watching the movie might miss some crucial details and might get confused.

Kya’s birth name is actually Catherine Danielle Clark. She is the youngest of five children. And she has lived in Barkley Cove her entire life, in an isolated house near the marsh. Her unnamed parents (played by Garret Dillahunt and Ahna O’Reilly) have a troubled marriage because Kya’s father is a violent alcoholic, who often beats his wife and kids.

When Kya was 6 years old (played by Jojo Regina), her mother suddenly abandoned the family and never came back. Kya actually saw her mother leave with a suitcase, so the trauma of this memory haunts Kya. One by one, Kya’s older siblings—sister Missy, brother Murphy (aka Murph), sister Mandy and brother Jodie—leave the household. Jodie is closest in age to Kya, so his departure hurts Kya the most.

In the movie, Will Bundon portrays a young Jodie, while Logan Macrae plays the teenage/adult Jodie. Toby Nichols portrays teenage/young adult Murph. Emma Willoughby (also known as Emma Kathryn Coleman) portrays teenage/young adult Missy. Adeleine Whittle portrays teenage/young adult Mandy. All of these siblings except for Jodie (who comes back to Barkley Cove years later) remain distant from Kya.

Kya is about 12 or 13 years old when she’s the only child left to live with her father. She still fears him, but she finds that he treats her better now that he doesn’t have to take care of so many kids. He’s also eased up on drinking alcohol.

However, he’s extremely bitter about his wife’s abandonment. When Kya’s mother sends a letter, Kya’s father angrily burns the letter in front of Kya. He’s also so enraged that he burns everything that reminds him of his wife.

Kya’s father has a knapsack of shells and feathers. After Kya’s mother left the family, Kya began using her mother’s watercolor paints to paint these shells and feathers. Kya’s talent for drawing art and her fascination with shells and feathers become major parts of the story.

As a child, Kya is often left alone for days when her father goes on gambling binges. And after one of these trips away, Kya’s father never comes back. She learns to fend for herself by catching and growing her own food. She also sells some of her food at the local general store, which is owned an operated by a friendly couple named Jumpin’ (played by Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (played by Michael Hyatt), who have mutual respect for Kya.

Jumpin’ and Mabel know that Kya has been abandoned by her entire family, but they don’t want to report her to child welfare authorities because she is self-sufficient and isn’t causing any trouble. Kya is able to dodge any social services workers by hiding in the marsh if any authorities go to the home to visit. She gets the unflattering nickname Marsh Girl from people who know about her.

For most of her childhood, Kya is illiterate. On the one day she goes to school, she is taunted and laughed at by classmates for spelling the word “dog” as “god.” Kya runs away from the school and never goes back.

As a child, Kya briefly meets a boy around her age named Tate (played by Luke David Blumm), who is a friend of Jodie’s. When Kya is in her late teens and living on her own, Tate (played by Taylor John Smith) comes back into Kya’s life when she finds out he’s been leaving little gifts for her, such as booklets and supplies. Tate offers to teach Kya how to read and write when she finds out that she’s illiterate.

Just like Kya, Tate also comes from a working-class background and has a family tragedy that haunts him. His father is a shrimper. Tate’s mother and sister were killed in a car accident in Asheville, North Carolina. Tate feels tremendous guilt about their deaths because he believes that his mother and sister were in Asheville to get him a bicycle as a birthday gift.

Eventually, Tate and Kya become romantically involved with each other. However, their romance comes to an abrupt end when Tate goes away to college to pursue his dream of becoming a biologist. Before going away, Tate promised to keep in touch with Kya, but he never does.

Feeling abandoned and vulnerable, Kya ends up dating Chase, who ardently pursues her. He showers her with compliments and eventually promises that he will take care of her. However, there are some red flags about Chase, such as he doesn’t want to introduce Kya to his family. He also seems a little jealous that Kya is thinking about making money by selling her art as book illustrations.

Kya does indeed end up having a volatile relationship with Chase, which is why she’s the only suspect in his murder. What “Where the Crawdads Sing” does well is show how people who are abuse survivors see life in a different way, because they are often “on guard” or in “survival” mode. Kya’s experiences as an abuse survivor have a lot to do with the decisions that she makes in her life.

Just as in the book, the movie shows the outcome of the trial and who is guilty of Chase’s murder. How much people like the movie will depend on how much they’re engaged in Edgar-Jones’ performance. All of the other cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, but Edgar-Jones is utterly convincing in her role as this tortured soul, who doesn’t want people to see her as a victim. “Where the Crawdads Sing” certainly covers a lot of issues that have to do with how different social classes are treated and perceived, but the movie is also about not judging people by where they came from but who they are now.

Columbia Pictures and 3000 Pictures will release “Where the Crawdads Sing” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Ambulance’ (2022), starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza González

April 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jake Gyllenhaal and Eiza González in “Ambulance” (Photo by Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

“Ambulance” (2022)

Directed by Michael Bay

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action film “Ambulance” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A longtime bank robber, who’s white, convinces his adopted black brother to rob a bank with him, and when things go wrong, they hijack an ambulance to make their getaway. 

Culture Audience: “Ambulance” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless action movies that repeat bigoted stereotypes of women and people who aren’t white.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Ambulance” (Photo by Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

“Ambulance” is racist and sexist garbage that tries to cover up how stupid it is with car chases and gun shootouts. In this idiotic schlockfest, almost all black and Latino men are criminals, and women are a small minority. This movie hates black men so much, it makes the only black man in a group of bank robbers to be the one to commit the most violent and dumbest crimes. And by the end of the movie, there’s no doubt who is going to prison and who is not going to prison for the most serious crimes.

Directed by Michael Bay (who has a long history of making terrible movies) and written by Chris Fedak (in his feature-film screenwriting debut), “Ambulance” is a remake of writer/director Lars Andreas Pedersen’s 2005 Danish film “Ambulancen.” Both movies are essentially about bank robbers who make their getaway by hijacking an ambulance. The American version of “Ambulance” takes place in Los Angeles, where nearly half the population is Latino in real life. But in this horrible movie, the Latino men are criminals, and the sole Latina is a cold-hearted, difficult person who needs to be redeemed.

“Ambulance” opens with a scene that’s a very tired stereotype that’s been in too many other movies: an African American family is struggling financially. In this case, it’s the family of William “Will” Sharp (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a military war veteran who’s on the phone while he’s trying to get insurance coverage for his wife’s “experimental surgery” that his insurance won’t cover. Will and his wife Amy Sharp (played by Moses Ingram) have an infant son. Amy has cancer, although what type of cancer is never detailed in the movie. The character of Amy Sharp literally does nothing in this movie but hold a baby, look worried, and be a “stand by your man” woman, no matter how many violent crimes her husband commits.

Will is frustrated because the people he’s been dealing with at his insurance company are dismissive and downright rude. During this phone call, the insurance company employee hangs up on him when he expresses his irritation at being stonewalled. And you know what that means in a racist movie where an African American is financially desperate: The African American is going to commit a serious crime to get money.

Will has a brother named Daniel “Danny” Sharp (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Amy dislikes and distrusts immensely. Amy warns Will not to contact Danny. And it’s precisely at this point in the movie that you know Will is going to contact Danny. Before Will leaves the house, he lies to Amy by saying that the insurance for her surgery was approved, and he’s going to work at a new job that he’s started. That job probably doesn’t exist.

Instead, Will goes straight to Danny, who is in a money laundering business of supervising a warehouse where wealthy people store their luxury cars. What Danny really does to make money is rob banks with his small crew of men. Later in the movie, it’s mentioned that Danny has been robbing banks since he was 17. “Ambulance” never mentions if Danny spent any time in prison for it, because the filmmakers want to make Danny look like a smooth mastermind who’s too clever to get caught.

Viewers find out during Danny and Will’s jumbled conversation in their awkward reunion that Will and Danny grew up together as brothers because Will was adopted as a very young child by Danny’s biological father, L.T. Sharp. L.T., who is now dead (for reasons not explained in the movie), is described in various parts of the movie as an evil, psychotic but brilliant criminal whose specialty was bank robberies. Not surprisingly, L.T. was the one who groomed Danny to become a bank robber, while L.T. eventually became estranged from Will. And because “Ambulance” doesn’t care about women, except to put them in the movie to react to whatever the men do, it should come as no surprise that this movie never mentions any mother that Danny and Will might have had in their lives.

Because of Danny’s criminal lifestyle, Will has been estranged from Danny for a long time, although how long is never detailed in the movie. What the movie does show more than once is the racism when people try to insult Will by saying that he’s not Danny’s “real” brother, because Will is black, and Danny is white. Will tells Danny that he needs $231,000 for Amy’s surgery. Danny says that he doesn’t have the money, but that he and his crew are about to commit a major bank robbery that day, in a theft where they expect to get $32 million.

Danny tells Will that Will can get more than enough of the money that he needs if Will is a part of the bank robbery. (The robbers’ target is Los Angeles Federal Bank & Trust, which is a fictional bank name for this movie. In real life, the movie’s bank scenes were filmed at a former branch of Bank of America.) And to put even more pressure on Will, Danny tells Will that Will has just five minutes to decide before they leave for the heist. We all know what Will decides, because almost all of the mayhem in “Ambulance” wouldn’t exist without Will’s bad decisions.

Meanwhile, viewers are introduced to Camille “Cam” Thompson (played by Eiza González), the only woman in “Ambulance” who has more than 10 minutes of dialogue in the movie. The filmmakers of “Ambulance” want viewers to forget that women and girls are 51% of the population in the U.S. and in the world. Cam (she insists on being called Cam, not Camille) is a very jaded and egotistical lead field-training officer of Falck Company’s Ambulance No. 3.

As an emergency medical technician (EMT), Cam is technically very proficient in her job, but her personality is emotionally detached and off-putting. She’s first seen responding to an emergency scene, where somehow a girl named Lindsey (played by Briella Guiza), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, has gotten a spike from a wrought-iron fence embedded in her abdomen. (The accident is not shown in the movie.) In the ambulance, Cam attends to Lindsey and talks to Lindsey’s frantic mother (played by Jenn Proske) in a way that is almost robotic. Cam says all the right things, but there’s no real empathy in her voice, and she often gets irritable with the people who need her help.

After Lindsey is taken to the hospital, Cam has a conversation with a new EMT trainee named Scott Daskins (played by Colin Woodell), who seems to be romantically attracted to Cam. Scott looks disappointed when Cam tells him that she’s dating a doctor who works at a local hospital. In this conversation, Cam makes it clear that the people with whom she comes in contact on the job are just names to her, and she just moves on to the next assignment. Cam advises Scott to take the same emotionally disconnected approach to the job, because she says it’s the best way to deal with all the trauma that they witness.

Later, when Cam and Scott have a meal together at a diner, Cam gets somewhat of a rude awakening when Scott tells her how much she’s disliked by her co-workers. Scott says that although Cam is considered one of the best EMTs on the job when it comes to the technical responsibilities, she has a reputation for being unlikable and “no one wants to be your partner.” Cam looks a little hurt and shocked by this revelation, but it still shows how huge her ego is that she has no self-awareness about how being cold and unfeeling to other people can make people dislike her. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Cam is going to get some “life lessons” that will possibly redeem her and her obnoxious attitude.

Danny has meticulously planned the bank robbery. But, of course, some unexpected things don’t go according to the plan. Danny has a motley crew of about six or seven robbers on this heist, including a hippie-ish dimwit named Trent (played by Brendan Miller), who insists on wearing Birkenstock sandals to the bank robbery, and he gets teased repeatedly about his choice of shoes. There’s also a hulking dolt nicknamed Mel Gibson (played by Devan Chandler Long), because Danny thinks the guy wears his long, bushy beard like a 13th century Scottish warrior in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning movie “Braveheart.” Apparently, Danny and the “Ambulance” filmmakers forgot that Gibson didn’t have a beard in “Braveheart.”

What Danny and his crew didn’t anticipate was that a rookie cop named Zach Parker (played by Jackson White) from the Los Angeles Police Department would insist on coming in the bank, without Zach knowing that a robbery was taking place at that exact moment. At this point in the robbery, Danny (who’s dressed in casual business wear) has locked the entrance door and disguised himself as the bank manager, by wearing the manager’s name tag. Zach wants to go in the bank to ask a bank teller named Kim (played by Kayli Tran) out on a date, because Zach has had a crush on Kim for a while.

While Zach’s more experienced, corporal-ranked cop partner Mark Ranshaw (played by Cedric Sanders) waits outside, Zach approaches the bank’s front door, while Danny tells him that the bank is temporarily closed and refuses to let Zach inside. Zach persists on being let in the bank and says that his reason for being in the bank won’t take long. Danny finally relents and lets Zach in, so as not to arouse suspicion.

Zach notices that he’s the only customer in the bank, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it, because Danny told him that the bank was closed. Kim just happens to be at a bank teller window. Zach asks Danny what Kim’s last name is, and Danny quickly makes up a lie. Zach nervously asks Kim out on the date. When Zach notices that Kim is crying in distress, and that her last name on her name tag isn’t the same last name that Danny told him, Danny blows his cover and pulls a gun on Zach. Outside the bank, police officer Mark sees through the bank window that there’s an armed robbery in progress and calls for backup.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose. In the chaos of the robbers trying to get away, Will ends up shooting Zach in the leg. Much later in the movie, they find out that Zach was also shot in his spleen. During this desperate getaway, the rest of the robbers scatter outside, while Will and Danny stick together and hide in the bank. An ambulance is called for Zach, so Scott and Cam are the ambulance EMTs who arrive on the scene. The bank is surrounded by cops, and the robbers’ getaway driver becomes unavailable. And so, a trapped Will and Danny decide to hijack the ambulance to make their getaway.

Scott gets knocked down on the ground, while Danny and Will steal the ambulance, with Will driving and suddenly having the skills of a professional stunt driver throughout the rest of the movie. Cam is in the back of the ambulance while trying to give medical treatment to Zach, who is bleeding profusely and mostly unconscious during this entire ordeal. Danny, who alternates between the front and the back of the ambulance, thinks that he and Will should have more leverage if Cam and Zach are held as hostages.

It’s all just an excuse for “Ambulance” to show a lot of shaky cam chase footage and bombastic action scenes, with a lot of yelling and wreckage along the way. At various points in this moronic movie, Will punches Zach in the face to get him to shut up and render Zach unconscious; Danny tells a lot of bad jokes; and Cam (who’s not qualified to do surgery) does very unsanitary emergency spleen surgery on Zach, by getting videoconference advice from doctors on the ambulance’s laptop computer. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. And there are more silly shenanigans, such as people who are seriously injured and unconscious who then suddenly wake up as if they just took a harmless nap, or civilians show up at active crime scenes while law enforcement gives the kind of access to these civilians that wouldn’t be allowed in real life.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department’s S.I.S. (Secret Intelligence Service) team, led by an arrogant, macho imbecile named Captain Tyler Monroe (played by Garret Dillahunt), gets involved in the chase. Captain Monroe and his S.I.S. team were actually undercover and waiting outside the bank during the robbery, because they laid a trap when they heard that this bank might be targeted for a robbery, but Danny and Will still managed to escape. Some members of the S.I.S. (who are almost all white) unfairly blame Zach’s cop partner Mark for Zach getting shot, in a scene that has racist overtones because Mark is African American.

Captain Monroe makes dumb mistakes after dumb mistakes in his bungled efforts to capture these bank robbers. There’s a scene in the movie where Captain Monroe tells his subordinates to temporarily halt because he wants to rescue his English mastiff dog Nitro, who was unwittingly left in the back seat of one of the cars giving chase. Trivia note: Nitro’s real name is Nitro Zeus (named after a “Transformers” robot villain), and he is the real-life dog of “Ambulance” director/producer Bay, who has directed most of and produced all of the “Transformers” movies so far.

The LAPD isn’t the only law enforcement to get involved in the chase. An uptight FBI agent named Anson Clark (played by Keir O’Donnell) gets called to the scene. He gets the call while he’s in the middle of couples therapy with his husband Kyle (played by Brendan Robinson), who is very annoyed that Anson has to rush off and do his FBI job of catching criminals and trying to save people’s lives. Because “Ambulance” is such a badly made movie, Anson is the only FBI agent who’s shown doing any real work in this case.

And predictably, “new school” FBI Agent Clark (who wears suits on the job) and “old school” Captain Monroe (who wears camouflage pants and a baseball cap on the job) have opposite personalities and ways of working, so they clash with each other. But there’s an extra twist to Anson’s involvement in this case: Anson soon reveals that he knows Danny from their college days, when they both studied criminology at the University of Maryland. By the way, the law enforcement in “Ambulance” is depicted as completely incompetent and slow in doing background checks when they find out the identities of the bank robbers.

“Ambulance” tries to inject some comedy to lighten the mood of the intense violence and chase scenes, but it doesn’t erase the ugly stench of racism, sexism and overall stupid filmmaking that pollute this movie. Other than Cam, the movie’s only other female character who gets more than five minutes of dialogue is LAPD Lieutenant Dzaghig (played by Olivia Stambouliah), who talks for less than 10 minutes in the film. Her role is to be Captain Monroe’s sidekick, who delivers wisecracks in a deadpan manner.

Danny utters most of the tacky jokes in “Ambulance,” because the filmmakers want to portray Danny as an unhinged but lovable rogue who can laugh at himself and others around him. In a scene where Danny gets sprayed with a fire extinguisher, Danny is upset that the water ruined his clothing. “It’s cashmere!” Danny yells to no one in particular. During another part of the movie, Danny leads a bonkers sing-along to Christopher Cross’ 1979 hit “Sailing.”

Will is just there to follow Danny’s orders. On the surface, Will is portrayed as more sensitive and less prone to violence than Danny. However, based on who Will decides to shoot in the movie (Zach isn’t his only shooting victim), Will is not mentally stable at all. Will’s decisions actually make him look more violent and more foolish than everyone else in this bank robber crew, including Danny. Danny isn’t off the hook for dumb decisions either, because holding a wounded cop hostage after committing a bank robbery is almost a sure-fire way for criminals to get even harsher prison sentences, if the criminals aren’t killed by police during the hostage crisis.

As for Cam, she really is just another token lead female in a Michael Bay action movie, where she ends up with makeup that stays perfectly intact throughout the entire messy ordeal. Even her sweat looks polished. Sure, Cam has some fake-looking marks on her face that’s supposed to resemble dirt, and her clothes get somewhat ripped and “bloodied” in the pandemonium. But somehow, her bright red lipstick and other face cosmetic makeup never get smeared and remain perfectly contoured in ways that are unrealistic for anyone who goes through what Cam goes through in this insufferable film.

The only other Latinos with speaking roles in “Ambulance” are criminals, led by a menacing thug named Hector “Papi” Gutierrez (played by A Martinez), who owns an automobile warehouse/chop shop in downtown Los Angeles. Danny calls on Papi during the chase when Danny needs help. Papi used to work for L.T. Sharp, so he’s known Danny for a long time and is almost like an “uncle” to Danny.

And because “Ambulance” is a cesspool of empty-headed, racist clichés, there’s a buffoon African American character named Castro (played by Wale Folarin, also known as rapper Wale), who is portrayed as Danny’s most vapid subordinate. There’s a part of the movie where Danny tells Castro to meet him in a designated area to spray paint the entire exterior of the ambulance in less than two minutes, which is a dopey and unrealistic request in and of itself. Instead of bringing the requested blue paint, Castro brings neon green paint to do the job.

None of the cast members in this movie does anything great. In fact, they frequently embarrass themselves with all the junk dialogue they have to say and witless scenarios that they have to enact. “Ambulance” drags out the chase scenes to ridiculous levels, but ironically, the movie has probably the shortest time length for end credits of any major studio film released this year. That’s assuming anyone wants to stick around for the end credits after enduring this train wreck of a movie.

Anyone who is okay with this type of “entertainment” is okay with tone-deaf Hollywood filmmakers churning out bigoted and outdated content because these arrogant filmmakers think most movie audiences are too dumb to care. Needless to say, “Ambulance” is a sloppy and inferior remake of the original movie. If you care about supporting quality entertainment that doesn’t insult your intelligence, do not waste your time with “Ambulance,” which is nothing but mind-numbing trash with a major studio budget.

Universal Pictures will release “Ambulance” in U.S. cinemas on April 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Army of the Dead’ (2021), starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer and Garret Dillahunt

May 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dave Bautista in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

“Army of the Dead” (2021)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Taking place in Las Vegas during a zombie apocalypse, the horror flick “Army of the Dead” features a racially diverse cast (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ragtag group is enlisted to retrieve $200 million in cash from a casino bank vault before the government drops a nuclear bomb in the zombie-infested area. 

Culture Audience: “Army of the Dead” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in epic and suspenseful zombie thrillers.

Ella Purnell in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

What’s a filmmaker to do when there are so many movies and TV shows about a zombie apocalypse that cover a lot of the same problems? In the case of director Zack Snyder, you up the ante by making the story about looting a vault filled with $200 million in cash, before the area is detonated by government bomb. That’s the concept of writer/director/producer Snyder’s “Army of the Dead,” which definitely won’t be confused with director Joseph Conti’s 2008 low-budget supernatural horror movie “Army of the Dead,” which was about ghostly conquistadors.

Snyder (who was also the cinematographer for his “Army of the Dead” movie) isn’t new to directing a zombie film, since the previous zombie flick that he directed was the critically acclaimed 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” With a total running time of 148 minutes, “Army of the Dead” has a lot of time for viewers to get to know the story’s individual human characters, who each have a distinct and memorable personality. And believe it or not, a few of the zombie characters have semblances of personalities too—or at least a hierachy and customs that they follow—which is a departure from most zombie stories where the zombies only think about killing humans for their next meal.

Is it worth spending nearly two-and-a-half hours of your life watching “Army of the Dead”? It depends. If you’re inclined to watch gory horror movies, then the answer is a definite “yes,” because there’s enough of a good story and suspenseful moments that will keep you riveted. If you can’t stomach seeing brutal battles with blood and guts, then “Army of the Dead” is something that you can skip. The “Army of the Dead” screenplay (written by Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold) keeps things simple, so that even though there’s a relatively large cast of characters, nothing gets confusing.

“Army of the Dead” opens with a military convoy of trucks and vans somewhere in the Nevada desert, with one of the trucks carrying super-secret cargo. Two military guards named Corp. Bissel (played by Zach Rose) and Sgt. Kelly (played by Michael Cassidy) are in a truck together and speculate about what they might be guarding that’s so top-secret. Bissel thinks it might be an alien from outer space, because whatever is in the mystery truck came from Area 51. Kelly has been told on a walkie talkie to stay away from a truck that’s in the middle of the convoy.

Bissel and Kelly are about to found out what’s in that mysterious truck. A newlywed couple named Mr. Hillman (played by Steve Corona) and Misty Hillman (played by Chelsea Edmundson), who are in a car in the opposite lane of the highway, are engaging in some sexual activity, and the husband takes his eyes off the road while driving. Big mistake. The resulting crash is a big pile-up that ends with a massive explosion that kills the newlyweds and most of the people in the convoy, except for Bissel and Kelly.

The truck that was supposed to be “off limits” topples over. And out comes a zombie named Zeus (played by Richard Cetrone), who immediately goes on a rampage. Bissel and Kelly make a valiant effort to save themselves, but they inevitably become the zombie’s prey and then become zombies themselves.

“Army of the Dead” then fast-forwards to Las Vegas in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, by having a fairly long sequence of opening credits showing much of the action in slow-motion. The movie has many touches of humor, such as zombie showgirls who attack the type of creepy older men who would probably sexually harass them under other circumstances. Zombies have taken over casinos and are shown terrorizing people at slot machines and game tables. And because this is Vegas, there’s at least one Elvis impersonator who’s a zombie.

During all of this mayhem, a news announcement comes on TV that the government will drop a “low-yield, tactical nuclear bomb” in the worst zombie-infested area of Las Vegas, at sunset on (of all days) the Fourth of July. All people in the area have been ordered to evacuate. But a wealthy casino owner named Bly Tanaka (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) has other plans.

Bly’s eponymous high-rise casino is now abandoned and is in the area that’s scheduled to be bombed. The casino has a secret vault filled with $200 million cash. And he wants to get the cash out in time by having other people do the dirty work for him.

Bly visits Scott Ward (played by Dave Bautista), a widower who works as a cook at a diner. Scott isn’t an average diner employee though: He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for saving several people at the start of the zombie apocalypse. (This heroism is mentioned, but not shown, in the movie.)

And due to his shady past, Scott knows the right people to assemble to get all of that cash out of the vault, even if it means risking their lives in an area crawling with zombies. Bly offers Scott $50 million to do the job and says that it will be up to Scott how Scott wants to divide the payment amongst Scott’s team members. Scott eagerly accepts the challenge because he wants the money to open his own fast-food business.

The decision of where to drop the bomb is controversial because it’s in a quarantine area for people who’ve been suspected of being exposed to zombie infections. In one of the movie’s satirical moments, there’s a TV news debate with political pundits on both sides weighing in on the controversy. Real-life liberal Democrat pundit Donna Brazile (a former acting chair of the Democratic National Committee) and real-life conservative Republican aide Sean Spicer (a former White House press secretary in the Donald Trump administration) are seen in this debate arguing over the ethics of this bombing. Brazile thinks the bombing is a human rights violation, while Spicer thinks the bombing is necessary to ensure the safety of non-infected humans.

Scott’s estranged daughter Kate Ward (played by Ella Purnell) works as a volunteer at the quarantine shelter/refugee camp. Kate has befriended a single mother named Geeta (played by Huma Qureshi), who is desperate to have her two underage children smuggled out of the shelter before the bomb hits. Geeta begs Kate to take the children to the nearby city of Barstow if anything happens to her.

One of the supervisors at the shelter is a sleazy bully named Burt Cummings (played by Theo Rossi), who takes particular pleasure in demeaning women. When he does a thermometer scan of Geeta, he stands too close for comfort and tells her that if she doesn’t like it, he’ll use another way to take her temperature: “I could use my rectal thermometer,” he smirks.

The bomb is supposed to be dropped in 72 hours. But Dave is able to quickly assemble his team. They are:

  • Maria Cruz (played by Ana de la Reguera), a strong-willed mechanic who had a past romance with Scott.
  • Vanderohe (played by Omari Hardwick), a quintessential action hero who has a sensitive side (he works at a retirement home) beneath his tough exterior.
  • Marianne Peters (played by Tig Notaro), a wisecracking helicopter pilot who will be responsible for flying the team’s getaway helicopter.
  • Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer), a socially awkward and nerdy locksmith who will be responsible for cracking the safe’s complex security codes, which change on a regular basis.
  • Mikey Guzman (played by Raúl Castillo), a semi-famous YouTuber who likes to make extreme stunt videos of himself hunting zombies.
  • Chambers (Samantha Win), a feisty but emotionally aloof friend of Mikey’s who only trusts Mikey in the group.
  • Lilly (played by Nora Arnezeder), also known as The Coyote, a cunning warrior type who works at the quarantine shelter and was introduced to the group by Kate.
  • Kate, Scott’s daughter, who insists on being part of the team because she wants some of the money to help Deeta.
  • Martin (played by Garret Dillahunt), a security expert who works for Bly and is there to keep tabs on this motley crew so they won’t steal all the money for themselves.

One of Mikey’s friends named Damon (played by Colin Jones) was also supposed to be part of the team. But a fearful Damon quits early, before they even start their journey, when he finds out that the area they’re going to has a colony of zombies that will be sure to attack. Lilly knows the most about the zombies living in this colony, and she’s the go-to person to come up with strategies on how to outsmart the zombies.

As Lilly tells the rest of the team, these are not ordinary zombies. Regular zombies, which are more common, are called “shamblers” because they don’t think beyond eating and killing. The zombies that are near the casino are called “alphas,” because they’re smarter, faster and stronger than the shambler zombies.

These alpha zombies have formed a tribe headed by a king (Zeus, the same zombie who escaped from the military convoy) and a queen (played by Athena Perample), who expect the rest of the zombie tribe to follow their lead. These zombies, as seen in several parts of the movie, seem to have emotions of anger and sadness. And they also understand things such as bargaining, which might or might not come in handy for this group that will soon invade the alpha zombies’ territory.

“Army of the Dead” keeps things at a fairly energetic pace, although there are a few parts of the movie where people are standing around and talking a little too much. But the action, when it happens, lives up to expectations in intensity and realistic gore. There are some splatter scenes that were deliberately filmed for laughs. The movie also has a male zombie tiger named Valentine, which Lilly says used to be owned by Siegfried and Roy. Valentine is a scene-stealer, even though this creature is nothing but visual effects.

And in this group of opinionated people, there are personality conflicts, of course. Vanderohe doesn’t respect Dieter at first because he thinks Dieter is too wimpy and ill-prepared for the zombie-killing aspects of this mission. Kate has a lot of bitterness toward Scott because of how her mother died. (The death of Kate’s mother/Scott’s wife is shown in a flashback.) And no one seems to really like or trust Bly’s henchman Martin, who has a tendency to be a bossy know-it-all.

The big showdown battle toward the end of the movie is definitely one of the best scenes, as it should be. “Army of the Dead” doesn’t sugarcoat any violence, although there are moments that stretch the bounds of realism with some heavily choreographed stunts. All of the actors play their roles well, with Castillo, Notaro, Schweighöfer and Arnezeder bringing the most individuality to their characters’ personalities. Bautista doesn’t have a wide range of emotive skills as an actor, but “Army of the Dead” is the type of movie that showcases him at his best, rather than the silly action comedies that he sometimes does.

The biggest complaint or disappointment that viewers might have about “Army of the Dead” is regarding the movie’s final five minutes, when a character finds out something that this person should have found out much earlier. It drastically changes the tone of the film’s ending. But this potentially divisive ending doesn’t take away from “Army of the Dead” delivering plenty of thrills and chills that make it a better-than-average zombie movie.

Netflix released “Army of the Dead” in New York City on May 12, 2021, and will expand the movie’s release to more U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021. Netflix will premiere “Army of the Dead” on May 21, 2021.

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