Review: ‘Morbius,’ starring Jared Leto

March 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jared Leto in “Morbius” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Morbius”

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the New York City metropolitan area (and briefly in Costa Rica, Greece and Sweden), the horror/action film “Morbius” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A brilliant but illness-plagued biochemist named Dr. Michael Morbius finds the cure to diseases and death, but it comes at a price of becoming a superpowered vampire who craves human blood. 

Culture Audience: “Morbius” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies adapted from Marvel comic books, but the movie’s weak screenplay ultimately lowers the quality of this already-mediocre film.

Jared Leto and Adria Arjona in “Morbius” (Photo by Jay Maidment/Columbia Pictures)

“Morbius” works better as a horror movie than as a vampire superhero origin story that’s supposed to have a place in the “Spider-Man” franchise. “Morbius” has too many plot holes and not enough personality for it to ever be considered a classic superhero film. In fact, “Morbius” recycles so many familiar vampire clichés and action battle scenes, viewers will feel like they’ve already seen the movie before it even ends.

And so, what’s a stereotypical movie to do when it doesn’t have a lot of new ideas to offer? It usually has to rely on the charisma of the cast members to engage viewers in a way that will make audiences feel personally invested in what happens to the characters. But that charisma is mostly lacking in “Morbius,” which has a very talented cast that is limited by uninspired dialogue that renders their characters as nothing more than generic and hollow. “Morbius” was directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.

That’s not to say that “Morbius” is a complete waste of time. The movie’s visual effects, although not spectacular, still get the job done well enough that they look convincing in most parts of the film. And the acting isn’t terrible. The performances in “Morbius” just are not up to the memorable standards they could be for audiences who have become used to superhero movies where the main characters have strong and distinctive personalities.

Even as an origin story, “Morbius” falls flat. Dr. Michael Morbius (played by Jared Leto), a brilliant biochemist, is first seen in Costa Rica with a team of people, as he entices a cave full of bats out of the cave, by taking a knife and using it to slice the palm of his hand with a superficial wound that draws blood. Considering that bats wouldn’t just swarm out of a cave because they saw or smelled a human being’s bleeding hand, this scene is supposed to show these are no ordinary bats. They’re vampire bats.

“Morbius” then abruptly cuts to a flashback that takes place 25 years earlier in Greece. Michael (played by Charlie Shotwell), at the age of about 12 or 13, is in a children’s ward of a hospital when he gets a shy new roommate who’s about the same age. The newcomer’s name is Lucien Crown (played by Joseph Esson), although Michael insists on calling him Milo. This new roommate quickly goes along with being called by this new name, with the implication being that he’s got self-esteem issues and is desperate for a new identity. Milo uses crutches to walk and needs a machine to help him breathe.

The two boys have health problems that mostly confine them to their rooms, so they know what it’s like to feel like outcasts. From their hospital window, Michael and Milo can see bratty schoolboys, who are about the same age, taunting them for having health issues. Milo asks Michael after one of these tauntings: “What would you do if you could be normal for just one hour?” Michael curtly answers, “I don’t think about it.”

Milo and Michael become fast friends, with Michael being the more assertive and confident of the two. Michael tells Milo that they’re both in this hospital because they have the same blood disease and because “there’s something missing from our DNA,” so they are undergoing experiments. A scientist named Dr. Emil Nicholas (played by Jared Harris) is the leader of these experiments.

Dr. Nicholas is kind and paternal to Michael and Milo. Where are these boys’ parents or other family members? The movie never answers that question. However, people familiar with Morbius from Marvel Comics already know that Milo comes from a wealthy family, while Morbius was raised by a single mother. The Morbius in this movie never talks about his family or anything else about his background.

One day, Michael saves Milo’s life. When Milo’s breathing machine malfunctions, and Milo loses consciousness, Michael is able to quickly solve the problem. He fixes the machine by removing a tiny spring of coiled wire. Dr. Nicholas is so impressed with Michael’s problem-solving skills, he tells Michael that Michael will be sent to a school for gifted children.

Before Michael leaves, he writes a letter to Milo in which he promises that they will see each other again. Soon after Michael leaves, Milo is outside and being harassed by some of the bullies who have found Milo carrying this letter. The harassment turns into an assault that’s halted when Dr. Nicholas comes to Milo’s rescue.

The movie then flash-forwards to the present day. An adult Dr. Morbius is on stage in Sweden and about to receive the Nobel Prize. At this point in his life, he uses arm braces to walk. While a Nobel Prize official makes an introductory speech, it’s mentioned that Morbius was a prodigy who completed his doctorate at the age of 19. Viewers never get to see what happens next, but it’s described in the next scene.

“Morbius” then makes an abrupt time shift once again. He’s now back in New York City, where he lives. Morbius works at a hospital and has built has a scientific lab on a cargo ship, where he can do his top-secret experiments. While attending to a patient—a girl named Anna (played by Zaris-Angel Hator), who’s about 9 or 10 years old—she says to him, “I can’t believe you dissed the king and queen of Sweden.” Morbius then makes an anti-monarchist comment in response.

What happened on the way to Morbius getting a Nobel Prize? A newspaper headline reveals that he refused the prize, after going to all the trouble of being at the ceremony. This was a missed opportunity for the filmmakers to show Morbius having an irreverent, maybe mischievous side that made Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man so fun to watch for many fans of superhero movies. Unfortunately, what happened on that Nobel Prize stage stayed on that Nobel Prize stage, only to leave it up to viewers’ imagination what kind of uproar Morbius caused at that event.

Morbius’ closest colleague is Dr. Martine Bancroft (played by Adria Arjona), who is more cautious than Morbius is, when it comes to his radical experiments. She warns him that she knows he’s doing experiments that mix good DNA and bad DNA, and he could lose his medical license if authorities found out. Morbius is undeterred by Martine’s concerns. Martine later becomes Morbius’ obvious potential love interest, even though Leto and Arjona have little to no romantic chemistry together.

Meanwhile, Morbius’ former childhood friend Milo (played by Matt Smith) and Dr. Nicholas are both in New York City too. Milo (who is now a flashy extrovert, in contrast to how introverted he was as a child) is eager to get the same serum that Morbius has been working on to cure them both of their blood diseases. Morbius tells Milo that he can’t have any of the serum until Morbius tests it on himself first. You know where this is going, of course.

Because “Morbius” is a comic-book movie, viewers have to suspend disbelief that within this hospital, Morbius works in a lab with a large cylindrical cage full of bats. It’s implied that these are the same bats that Morbius got in Costa Rica. Morbius wants to see if he can solve his health problems by infusing his DNA with bat DNA in a serum, so that Morbius can not only eliminate his illnesses, he can also possibly live forever. Try to read that without laughing.

A trial test on a mouse proves to be successful. And the next thing you know, Morbius and Martine are on the cargo ship off of the coast of Long Island, so she can inject him with the serum. Why have the lab on a cargo ship, which is out in the open and would put it on the radar of the U.S. Coast Guard or other entities that monitor sea vessels? Don’t expect an answer for that either.

It’s all just a way for Morbius to end up killing people when the serum experiment goes very wrong, and he finds out that he has become a homicidal vampire who craves human blood. A massacre ensues that leaves eight people dead on the ship, with Morbius and Martine as the only survivors. Martine’s injuries (she was knocked down by one of the ship’s crew members) leave her recovering in a hospital. It won’t be the last time she gets seriously injured in this movie.

Meanwhile, the formerly sickly-looking Morbius finds out he’s now healthy with an athletic physique and superpowers, but he’s also a vampire who now craves human blood. Morbius is horrified and deeply ashamed of what he’s become, and he wants to make things right by trying to reverse the serum. However, he’s the main suspect in the cargo ship massacre, so he goes into hiding. And where does this fugitive go when authorities are looking for him? Right back to his workplace, where no one seems to notice that he no longer has to use braces to walk.

Two agents from the FBI are hot on Morbius’ trail: Simon Stroud (played by Tyrese Gibson) and Alberto Ramirez (played by Al Madrigal), whose names are not Mutt and Jeff, even though they act like Mutt and Jeff stereotypes. Agent Stroud is the stoic, no-nonsense type. Agent Ramierz is the goofy, nervous type. Agents Stroud and Ramirez are assigned to the FBI’s Department of Enhanced Individuals.

That’s why these FBI agents don’t really seem shocked when Morbius is brought in for questioning, and he starts to partially transform into a vampire right in front of them. Agent Ramirez brings holy water to protect himself in this interrogation, while Agent Stroud somewhat scoffs at Agent Ramirez’s fear of vampires. It’s enough to say that Morbius’ stint in a detention center is short-lived, and he goes on the run again.

The rest of “Morbius” is essentially a “vampire on the loose” story, with the FBI trying to capture Morbius, who gets blamed for some more vampire murders that he did not commit. The movie falters in how certain fights involving Morbius (such as a major brawl that happens in a subway station) are treated as everyday occurrences and certainly not investigated adequately by law enforcement that has launched a massive manhunt (or is it vampire hunt?) for Morbius. But viewers can’t really take this “massive manhunt” seriously when Agents Stroud and Ramirez are the only FBI officials who seem to be available to show up and investigate the vampire crime scenes.

The action sequences in “Morbius” liven up an otherwise dull storyline that lacks originality. Smith seems to be having some campy fun in his role as the adult Milo. Leto has done much better work elsewhere, although “Morbius” certainly isn’t his worst movie. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their average roles.

Two mid-credits scenes tease Morbius’ involvement with a character who was in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Who this character is not a secret, but it won’t be mentioned in this review anyway, so as not to spoil the surprise for viewers who don’t know. Spider-Man and Venom both get briefly mentioned in “Morbius.” It’s enough to say, based on what the underwhelming “Morbius” has to offer, any future “Morbius” movies—just like many other superhero movies—might have to rely on Spider-Man to bring more excitement to the story.

Columbia Pictures will release “Morbius” in U.S. cinemas on April 1, 2022.

Review: ‘House of Gucci,’ starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino

November 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jared Leto, Florence Andrews, Adam Driver, Lady Gaga and Al Pacino in “House of Gucci” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“House of Gucci”

Directed by Ridley Scott

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1978 to 1997, mostly in Italy and New York City, the dramatic film “House of Gucci” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latina and a few Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After middle-class Patrizia Reggiani marries into the wealthy Gucci family, family members start to battle over the Gucci empire of luxury goods, resulting in one of the family members getting murdered. 

Culture Audience: “House of Gucci” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s star-studded cast, the Gucci brand and tawdry true crime movies.

Jeremy Irons in “House of Gucci” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Just like a fake Gucci item, “House of Gucci” is a tacky sham that quickly falls apart. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a high-quality movie, just because of the celebrity names and Oscar pedigrees of the movie’s headlining stars and director. The movie looks good, when it comes to production design, costume design, makeup and hairstyling. But the screenplay is atrocious, the acting is uneven, and director Ridley Scott helmed “House of Gucci” like it’s an idiotic melodrama made for mediocre television, but with a much higher budget than most TV-movies will ever have. (“House of Gucci” even has some laughably bad freeze-frame shots as lazy ways of putting emphasis on a particular emotion.)

It’s all the more reason for viewers to be disappointed that several Oscar winners and Oscar nominees have stepped into this “smoke and mirrors” cesspool of a movie. We all know that the fashion industry is all about image and how someone looks on the outside. That doesn’t mean that a movie about the Gucci empire’s biggest scandal needs to be shallow and superficial too.

The weakest link in “House of Gucci” is the screenplay, written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna. They adapted the screenplay from Sara Gay Forden’s 2000 book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed.” The “House of Gucci” movie is slipshod in certain details, by getting some basic facts wrong about this notorious murder case. And many parts of this movie are surprisingly dull. Don’t expect there to be any riveting scenes of a murder trial in “House of Gucci.” There aren’t any. There’s a poorly written, anti-climactic courtroom scene that’s rushed into the movie.

The Gucci murder case involved a complex group of real-life people, who are mostly reduced to caricatures in the movie. However, a few of the “House of Gucci” cast members make the film watchable because of their performances: Lady Gaga, Jeremy Irons and Jared Leto. They stand out for completely different reasons.

Lady Gaga is compelling to watch as the scheming Patrizia Reggiani, who was at the center of the Gucci scandal because Reggiani was convicted of masterminding a murder plot. The details of the Gucci murder case are well-documented, but in case anyone reading this review doesn’t know anything about the case before seeing the movie, this review won’t reveal who was murdered. (Although it’s pretty obvious, when you consider who would have to die for Reggiani to inherit a large share of the Gucci fortune.)

Lady Gaga’s performance as Patrizia Reggiani takes a deep dive into campiness, occasionally comes up for air in earnestness, and sometimes lounges around in limpness. Overall, Lady Gaga has the type of on-screen magnetism that even when Patrizia is doing awful things, it’s with the type of villainous charisma where you know this character is capable of convincing some people that she did very bad things for very good reasons.

A campy performance isn’t necessarily a problem if the rest of the actors are on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, “House of Gucci” director Scott failed to bring a cohesive tone to this movie. Other “House of Gucci” actors give performances that are not campy at all but come across as if they truly believe this is a serious, artsy drama worthy of the highest accolades in the movie industry in every top-level category.

That’s the kind of performance that Adam Driver gives in “House of Gucci,” where he portrays Patrizia’s beleagured husband Maurizio Gucci. Maurizio met Patrizia when he was a law student and had no intention of joining the family business. Driver’s portrayal of Maurizio has the type of personality transformation that actors usually relish.

Maurizio goes from being mild-mannered and easily manipulated when he meets Patrizia while he was in law school to becoming a ruthless and recklessly spending businessman who casts Patrizia aside when he decides to move in with his mistress Paola Franchi (played by Camille Cottin) and divorce Patrizia. Their divorce became final in 1994.

“House of Gucci” makes it look like Maurizio abandoned not only Patrizia but essentially neglected their daughter Alessandra after the divorce. The three actresses who portray Alessandra in “House of Gucci” are Nicole Bani Sarkute (Alessandra at 3 years old); Mia McGovern Zaini (Alessandra at 9 years old); and Clelia Rossi Marcelli (teenage Alessandra).

In reality, Patrizia and Maurizio had two children together: daughters Alessandra (born in 1976) and Allegra, born in 1981. The erasure of Allegra from the movie is just one of the many details that “House of Gucci” gets wrong. The movie also changes the timeline of when Patrizia and Maurizio met and got married. In the beginning of the movie, Patrizia meets Maurizio in 1978. In real life, Patrizia and Maurizio met in 1970 and got married in 1972.

In the “House of Gucci” movie version of Patrizia’s life in 1978, she was working as an office manager for her stepfather’s truck transportation business in Milan, Italy. Patrizia and Maurizio meet at a nightclub party of one of his friends. Maurizio is standing behind the bar, and Patrizia mistakes him for the bartender, so she asks him to fix her a drink. Maurizio thinks that she’s confident and sexy. He tells her that she reminds him of Elizabeth Taylor.

Patrizia seems much more interested in Maurizio when he mentions that his last name is Gucci. Patrizia asks Maurizio if he wants to dance. He says no. The scene then cuts to Patrizia and Maurizio dancing together on the dance floor. Patrizia’s persuasive personality sets the tone for much of their relationship.

It seems like the “House of Gucci” filmmakers decided to change this couple’s courtship to take place in the late 1970s solely for the purpose of having disco music in the movie’s scenes that depict the early years of their relationship. After all, Lady Gaga looks better twirling or slow dancing on a 1978 dance floor where there’s a disco ball and Studio 54-type of partiers, instead of a scene at a 1970 party that would probably have to be staged with a bunch of rich-looking hippies.

Therefore, the “House of Gucci” soundtrack serves up its share of disco music, such as Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Donna Summer’s “On the Radio.” Later, when the movie’s timeline goes into the 1980s, the soundtrack features songs such as the Eurythmics hits “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Here Comes the Rain Again.” The soundtrack songs often blare in “House of Gucci” in music-video-styled sequences that further cheapen the look of the movie.

The first sign that Patrizia is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants is when she stalks Maurizio on campus at his law school. She follows him into a library and pretends to “coincidentally” run into him again. This scene is like something right out of a Lifetime movie. Maurizio has no idea that he’s being targeted, so he goes along with Patrizia’s seduction and is eventually convinced that their relationship is true love.

Irons gives an understated and believable performance as Rodolfo Gucci, Maurizio’s widower father, who is the only Gucci family member who holds on to his dignity in this movie. Rodolfo is immediately suspicious of Patrizia and her intentions for his only child. Rodolfo doesn’t come right out and use the words “gold digger” when he warns Maurizio not to marry Patrizia, but Rodolfo expresses his concerns that Patrizia is not a woman of substance and that she seems to be latching on to Maurizio because of the Gucci family fortune.

Even though Rodolfo vehemently disapproves of Patrizia, it turns out that Rodolfo and Patrizia actually agree on something: They both think that Maurizio should go into the Gucci family business. However, Maurizio’s refusal to follow his father’s wishes leads to him being estranged from Rodolfo for a while.

Maurizio is kicked out of the family home and cut off from his family’s financial support. With nowhere else to go, Maurizio moves in with Patrizia and her parents. Maurizio gets a job working for Patrizia’s stepfather Fernando (played by Vincent Riotta), who’s depicted in the movie as someone who engages in shady business practices.

To put an emphasis on how much Maurizio is estranged from his former life, when Patrizia and Maurizio get married in a church, the movie makes a point of showing that the pews on the bride’s side of the aisle are filled with her family members and friends, while the pews on the groom’s side of the aisle are almost empty. George Michael’s 1987 song “Faith” is played in the movie’s soundtrack after Patrizia and Maurizio exchange vows and walk happily out of the church. This soundtrack choice is an example of more of the movie’s carelessness with details, because the wedding took place years before “Faith” was released and before Michael was even a pop star.

Meanwhile, Rodolfo’s older brother Aldo Gucci (played by Al Pacino, hamming it up in the type of moody roles he’s been doing recently) doesn’t trust Aldo’s dimwitted son Paolo (played by Leto) to be in charge of any part of the family business. Aldo reaches out to Maurizio to come back to the family fold, but Maurizio still hesitates. Patrizia eventually joins forces with Aldo to persuade Maurizio to reconcile with his family and become part of the Gucci business empire. Maurizio eventually agrees, because at this point in his life, he still wants to please Patrizia. For a while, Patrizia and Maurizio made their home base in New York City during Maurizio’s rise in the Gucci business.

More scheming and manipulations ensue, exactly like how you expect them to play out in a movie that is plagued with clumsy clichés. Patrizia and Maurizio are not shown having any meaningful conversations that are not about his family, money or business. In other words, the movie falls short of convincing viewers that Maurizio and Patrizia had a deep emotional love that would make him blind to her gold-digging ways.

Maurizio and Patrizia have a passionate sex life in the beginning of their relationship, so the movie implies that lust, not love, was what really brought this couple together. The sex scenes in “House of Gucci” aren’t very sexy because they look more like parodies of soap-opera-styled sex. Items on tables are shoved aside and crash on the floor to make room on the table for whatever sex act occurs. Any vigorous thrusting doesn’t look erotic but looks more like someone having a robotic workout routine at a gym. And the orgasms sound very fake.

It’s not much of a surprise that “House of Gucci” is a very “straight male gaze” movie where only women’s nude private parts are shown, not men’s nude private parts. And speaking of people in “House of Gucci” in various states of undress, this movie has a semi-obsession with Patrizia being seen in bathtubs or saunas. Apparently, the filmmakers want viewers to think that life is supposed to be more luxurious if you take baths instead of showers.

The supporting characters in “House of Gucci” are either over-the-top ridiculous (Salma Hayek as Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma, a self-described psychic who befriends Patrizia), or bland as bland as can be (Jack Huston as Gucci financial advisor Domenico De Sole; Reeve Carney as fashion designer Tom Ford) with no intriguing personalities. Pina is a stereotypical con artist who gives vague predictions to Patrizia (“I see a big fortune coming your way”) and mystical-sounding advice, such as telling Patrizia that Patrizia should wear more red for “protection” and more green for “cleansing.”

The fashion industry is a mere backdrop to the betrayals and lies that usually originate from Patrizia and spread like a virus to other members of the Gucci family. For example, “House of Gucci” wastes an opportunity to give a fascinating insider’s look at the Gucci empire. Instead, the movie gives trite portrayals of the massive reinvention that the Gucci brand underwent from the 1970s to the 1990s. The movie serves up a fast-food version of what happened on the business side of the Gucci story.

“House of Gucci” unrealistically makes it look like it was only Patrizia who had the business sense to tell the family in the 1980s that it was devaluing the Gucci name by licensing the brand to cheap-quality merchandise, and that they needed to go back to Gucci being synonymous with luxury. The Gucci brand was then repositioned as “hip/trendy” (not old-fashioned) luxury. For all of her supposed business skills, Patrizia isn’t actually showing doing any real work as a so-called Gucci powerhouse. According to this movie, all she seems to be good at doing is telling people what to do.

The “House of Gucci” role of fashion designer Ford, a native of Texas who is credited with helping further reinvent the Gucci brand in the 1990s, is literally a walk-on role: The most memorable things that he does in the movie is give the traditional end-of-show designer stroll on a runway after showing a collection, and when Ford reads a newspaper article that praises him, he walks out of the room to say that he can’t wait to call his mother.

At no point in the movie is anyone in the Gucci empire shown having a strong relationship with Ford, even though he was a driving force at Gucci, where he worked from 1990 to 2004, with most of those years spent as Gucci’s creative director. There are some hints that De Sole had his own agendas and ambitions, but the character is written in a completely boring and hollow way. Unless you’re a fashion aficionado who knows about De Sole and his further ascent in the Gucci empire, you might have a hard time remembering his name after watching this movie.

“House of Gucci” is also problematic in how it portrays women, because the three female characters with the most prominent speaking roles are either villains (Patrizia and Pina) or a mistress (Paola). Vogue magazine editorial executive Anna Wintour (played by Catherine Walker), actress Sophia Loren (played by Mãdãlina Ghenea) and Paolo’s wife Jenny Gucci (played by Florence Andrews) have meaningless cameos in “House of Gucci.” Even back in the 1970s to 1990s, when this movie takes place, women were so much more important in the fashion industry than what “House of Gucci” makes it look like.

Out of all the portrayals of the Gucci men in “House of Gucci,” Leto’s performance as Paolo is the flashiest one. Much of the performance’s standout qualities have to do with the top-notch prosthetics that Leto wears to make him look like a completely different person who is heavier and older than Leto’s real physical appearance. However, Leto does show some actor panache by having an amusing Italian accent, and he plays Paolo’s buffoon role to the hilt, bringing some intentional comedic moments.

Leto’s performance is only marred by some silly-looking scenes, such as when Paolo does an awkward dance of jubilation with Patrizia when she deceives aspiring fashion designer Paolo into thinking that his horrendous fashions are fabulous and worthy of being part of the Gucci brand. It’s the type of scene that looks like something Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd would’ve rejected for their Two Wild and Crazy Guys act on “Saturday Night Live.” Paolo’s words and actions get more cartoonish as the movie goes along. A low point is when Paolo urinates on a Gucci scarf in a fit of anger.

Unfortunately, the best performance efforts by the “House of Gucci” cast members can’t overcome the very cringeworthy screenplay that ruins this movie. In one scene, when Patrizia and Maurizio have an argument, she chokes up with tears and says: “I had no idea I married a monster.” He replies coldly, “You didn’t. You married a Gucci.” In another scene, Pina snarls at someone, “Don’t fuck this up, ’cause I’ll put a spell on you!” In another scene, Paolo says, “Never confuse shit with chocolate. They may look the same, but they’re very different. Trust me, I know!”

The Paolo character might want to warn people not to confuse defecation with chocolate, but viewers should be warned not to confuse “House of Gucci” with being a superb film. For a movie that’s supposed to be about a haute couture/luxury fashion brand, it wallows in the muck of cheap gimmicks, sloppy screenwriting and a lack of self-awareness about how horrendous the worst parts are. The end result is a tawdry mess. And you can’t erase the stink from that.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “House of Gucci” in U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2021. “House of Gucci” is set for release on digital and VOD on February 1, 2022. The movie’s release date on Blu-ray and DVD is on February 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League,’ starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill

March 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Set in several fictional DC Comics places such as Gotham, Metropolis, Central City and Atlantis, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians), ranging from superheroes to regular citizens to villains.

Culture Clash: An all-star group of superheroes called Justice League gather to do battle against evil entities that want to take over the universe.

Culture Audience: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of epic superhero movies that have a dark and brooding tone.

Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a four-hour superhero movie that can be summed up in four words: “definitely worth the wait.” Also unofficially known as “The Snyder Cut,” this extravaganza is the director’s cut of 2017’s “Justice League,” an all-star superhero movie that was panned by many fans and critics. Even though Snyder was the only director credited for “Justice League,” it’s a fairly well-known fact that after Snyder couldn’t complete the film because his 20-year-old daughter Autumn committed suicide, writer/director Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the movie. Whedon made some big changes from Snyder’s original vision of “Justice League.” (There’s a dedication to Autumn that says “For Autumn” at the end of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”) The “Justice League” that was released in 2017 had a lot of wisecracking jokes, and the violence and language were toned down to a more family-friendly version of the movie.

Since the release of “Justice League” in 2017, fans of DC Comics movies demanded that Warner Bros. Pictures “release The Snyder Cut” of the film. And due to popular demand, Snyder was able to make the “Justice League” movie he originally intended to make. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is part of HBO Max’s lineup of original content.

As promised, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a darker and more violent version of the 2017 “Justice League” movie, but it also has a lot more emotional depth and gives room for more character development and intriguing possibilities within the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was written by Chris Terrio, with Snyder, Terrio and Will Beall credited for the story concept. Terrio and Whedon were credited screenwriters for “Justice League.”

Does “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” live up to the hype? Mostly yes. The scenes with the main characters are of higher quality and are more riveting than in the original “Justice League.” The action scenes are more realistic. The overall pacing and tone of the story are also marked improvements from the 2017 version of “Justice League.” However, the reason for the cameo appearance of The Joker (played by Jared Leto) in the movie’s epilogue isn’t what it first appears to be, so some fans might be disappointed. And the appearance of Ryan Choi/Atom (played by Ryan Zheng) is very brief (less than two minutes), and he doesn’t talk in the movie.

Many people watching “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” have already seen “Justice League,” so there’s no need to rehash the plot of “Justice League.” This review will consist primarily of the content in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” that was not in “Justice League.” For those who have not seen “Justice League,” the basic summary is that an all-star group of superheroes have assembled to battle an evil villain that wants to take over the universe by gathering three mystical Mother Boxes, which are living machines that have enough energy to cause widespread destruction.

The superheroes are Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), Superman/Clark Kent (played by Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (played by Gal Gadot), Cyborg/Victor Stone (played by Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (played by Jason Momoa)—all seen together in a live-action movie for the first time in “Justice League.” The villain is Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), but “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” features the first movie appearances of two arch villains that have more power and authority than Steppenwolf: DeSaad (voiced by Peter Guinness) and the supreme villain Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is divided into chapters with these titles:

  • Part 1 – “Don’t Count On It, Batman”
  • Part 2 – “Age of Heroes”
  • Part 3 – “Beloved Mother, Beloved Son”
  • Part 4 – “Change Machine”
  • Part 5 – “All the King’s Horses”
  • Part 6 – “Something Darker”
  • Epilogue

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” Steppenwolf is more of a sniveling lackey than he was in “Justice League,” because there are multiple scenes of him acting subservient to DeSaad. Steppenwolf is still aggressive against his foes, while DeSaad is sinister and imperious, and Darkseid is fearsome and unforgiving. In a new scene between DeSaad and Steppenwolf, DeSaad scolds Steppenwolf for betraying the Great One and Steppenwolf’s own family. Steppenwolf replies with regret, “I saw my mistake!”

When Bruce goes to Iceland to recruit Arthur, their confrontation is a little more violent and Bruce flashes a wad of cash to entice Arthur to join Justice League. This scene is extended to show some Icelandic women singing on the seashore after Arthur declines Bruce’s offer, Arthur takes off his sweater, and swims away. One of the women picks up Arthur’s sweater and smells it, not in a salacious way, but as a way to give her comfort.

Back in Metropolis, there’s previously unseen footage of Daily Planet newspaper reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) getting coffee for a local cop. It becomes clear that this was a routine for her, since she’s seen doing this again in the scene where she finds out that Superman has come back to life. It gives some depth to Lois trying to have a normal routine after the death of her fiancé Clark Kent/Superman. It’s mentioned in the movie that Lois took a leave of absence from the Daily Planet after Clark died.

And there’s an extended scene of Wonder Woman fighting off terrorists in a government building. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has less shots of Wonder Woman fighting in slow motion and more shots of her speeded up while she’s fighting. And in the terrorist scene, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” puts more more emphasis on Wonder Woman saving a group of visiting schoolkids (who are about 10 or 11 years old) and their teachers, who are taken hostage during this fight.

After Wonder Woman defeats the terrorists, she says to a frightened girl: “Are you okay, princess?” The girl replies, “Can I be you someday?” Wonder Woman answers, “You can be anything you want to be.”

Victor Stone/Cyborg gets the most backstory in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Viewers will see the car accident that led to his scientist father Silas Stone (played by Joe Morton) deciding to save Victor’s life by using the Mother Box on Earth to turn Victor into Cyborg. The love/hate relationship that Victor has with his father is given more emotional gravitas in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Viewers see in the movie that even before the car accident, there was tension between Silas and Victor because of Silas’ workaholic ways. There are also never-before-seen scenes with Victor’s mother Dr. Elinore Stone (played by Karen Bryson), who died in the car crash.

And speaking of car crashes, there’s an added scene of Barry Allen /The Flash applying for a job as a dog walker at a pet store called Central Bark. Before he walks into the store, he locks eyes with passerby Iris West (played by Kiersey Clemons), in the way that people do when they have mutual attraction to each other. Iris gets into her car to drive off, but a truck driver (who was distracted by reaching for a hamburger he dropped on the floor of the vehicle) slams into Iris’ car, and Barry rescues her.

During this rescue, Barry grabs a hot dog wiener from a food vendor cart that was smashed in the accident and gets back to the pet store in time to feed the wiener to the dogs. Barry then quips to the store manager, “Do I start on Monday?” It’s an example of the touches of humor that the movie has, to show it isn’t completely dark and gloomy. By the way, this car accident/rescue scene is the only appearance of Iris in the movie.

“Justice League” got a lot of criticism for the movie’s corny dialogue that many viewers thought cheapened what should have been a more serious tone to the movie. And even the parts of “Justice League” that were supposed to be comedic were slammed by fans and critics for not being very funny. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” removes a few of the most cringeworthy lines that “Justice League” had.

For example, in the “Justice League” scene where Barry/The Flash and Victor/Cyborg are digging up Superman’s grave, Barry makes an awkward attempt to bond with Victor by extending his hand in a fist bump toward Victor, but Victor doesn’t return the gesture. Barry then makes a remark that the timing might be off and the fist bump might be too racially charged for the moment. These lines are completely cut from “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” but the movie still has The Flash/Cyborg fist bump after the group showdown battle with Steppenwolf.

The gravedigging scene in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is changed to Barry saying to Victor: “Wonder Woman: Do you think she’d go for a younger guy?” Victor replies, “She’s 5,000 years old, Barry. Every guy is a younger guy.”

Another removal from “Justice League” are some words that Lois utters when she and a resurrected Superman are reunited, and he takes her to a corn field on the Kent family farm. In the original “Justice League” Lois tells him, “You smell good.” And he replies, “Did I not before?” In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” Lois’ line is changed to “You spoke.” And Superman gives the same reply, “Did I not before?”

But make no mistake: Even though “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has some dialogue that’s intended to be funny, the movie definitely has a heavier and edgier tone than “Justice League.” Aquaman still does some joyous whooping and hollering during the fight scenes with Steppenwolf, but it’s toned down in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” so he doesn’t sound so much like a happy guy at a frat party. And these superheroes say occasional curse words that wouldn’t make the cut in a movie that’s intended for people all ages.

Even the music that plays during the end credits reflects this more somber and more reflective tone. In “Justice League,” the music playing over the end credits was Gary Clark Jr.’s bluesy-rock, upbeat version of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” the music that plays over the end credits is Allison Crowe’s raw and soulful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is a song that’s often played at funerals in tribute to someone.

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” there’s a lot more screen time devoted to showing the aftermath of death and how the loved ones left behind are grieving, including extended scenes of how Superman’s adoptive mother Martha Kent (played by Diane Lane) and Lois are dealing with Clark/Superman’s death. Arthur/Aquaman keeps going back to the deep ocean to spend time with the preserved body of his father. Victor visits the gravesite of his mother. And then later, Victor goes to the gravesites of his mother and his father, who was killed when a STAR Labs building exploded. Wonder Woman and Aquaman discuss a past war between the Amazons and the Atlanteans and how there are still lingering repercussions of that destruction.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” also delivers more details on what happened in the STAR Labs building during the part of the movie where Superman was resurrected and Steppenwolf stole the Mother Box that was hidden by humans on Earth. This new scene gives more context and shows that Steppenwolf did not get the Mother Box so easily. Victor made a decision that cost him his life, while certain members of Justice League were inside the building soon after the Mother Box was taken.

There are also extended scenes with Mera (played by Amber Heard), Nuidis Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe), Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons) and Deathstroke (played by Joe Manganiello). And the epic battle with Steppenwolf toward the end is truly a spectacle to behold. Viewers will see DeSaad’s and Darkseid’s reactions to this fight. The movie’s epilogue includes a conversation between Bruce and Martian Manhunter that strongly indicates that fans should look for Martian Manhunter to play a major role in another DCEU movie. Simply put: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is mostly a triumph and can easily be considered one the the best DCEU movies of all time.

HBO Max will premiere “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” on March 18, 2021.

Review: ‘The Little Things’ (2021), starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto

January 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rami Malek, Jared Leto and Denzel Washington in “The Little Things” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Little Things”

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Culture Representation: Taking place in California in 1990, the crime drama “The Little Things” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and the working-class.

Culture Clash: Two police detectives with contrasting backgrounds team up to find a serial killer.

Culture Audience: “The Little Things” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching slow-paced and dull crime movies that waste the considerable talent of the starring cast members.

Denzel Washington and Rami Malek in “The Little Things” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Take three Oscar-winning actors and put them in a crime thriller written and directed by filmmaker who has a solid track record of making crowd-pleasers. What could possibly go wrong? When it comes to the disappointing crime drama “The Little Things,” it’s not so much what went wrong but what should have gone right. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (whose best-known movie is 2009’s “The Blind Side”), “The Little Things” ultimately fails to be exciting or innovative, considering that it stars the very talented Academy Award winners Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto.

Almost everything about “The Little Things” has been done before in other movies and done much better. There are key parts of the movie that will definitely get comparisons to director David Fincher’s 1995 classic “Seven,” written by Andrew Kevin Walker and starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey. The irony is that “The Little Things” was written by Hancock back in the early 1990s, before “Seven” (a far superior film) was released.

There are some noticeable similarities in both movies. “Seven” and “The Little Things” are about two cops (one middle-aged, one younger) who team up to hunt down a serial killer. The prime suspect is a mysterious creep who leads them in a cat-and-mouse styled investigation where he keeps them guessing about crucial aspects of the killing spree. (Freeman and Pitt were the cops in “Seven,” while Spacey was the suspected serial killer.)

In “The Little Things,” which takes place over a few days in October 1990, Washington plays the more experienced and older cop named Joe “Deke” Deacon, while Malek is the younger cop named Jim “Jimmy” Baxter. Leto has the role of a sleazy loner named Albert Sparma, who becomes the prime suspect in a string of murders of young women in Southern California. Unfortunately, there’s so much about the story that’s unimaginative and sluggishly paced that there’s very little suspense throughout the story.

The opening scene of “The Little Things” looks like something out of a formulaic horror movie: A young woman is driving by herself at night on a deserted road somewhere in the Los Angeles area. She gets tailgated and then chased by a mysterious driver. She panics and drives off of the road to a diner, whose outside lights are on, but she finds out too late that the diner is closed and no one is there. She runs off into a desert area, and the mystery stalker gives chase on foot. Luckily, she’s able to run back out onto the road and flags down a passing truck in order to get rescued.

Viewers later find out that her name is Tina Salvatore (played by Sofia Vassilieva), and police think that she narrowly escaped from a serial killer who has been targeting young women and stabbing them to death. However, most of the murder victims have been prostitutes, and Tina doesn’t fit that profile. She didn’t even get a good look at the guy who tried to kill her and never heard him talk, so the chances are slim to none that Tina can identify this criminal. Tina, just like most of the female characters in this film, is essentially sidelined. Except for a brief scene later in the movie, this key witness is never seen again.

The women with speaking roles in this movie only serve one of three purposes: to be a crime victim; a current or former love interest; or someone who is subservient to men. These one-dimensional characters include Jimmy’s dutiful and adoring wife Ana (played by Isabel Arraiza); Deke’s ex-wife Marsha (played by Judith Scott), who works as a medical examiner and does whatever Deke asks her to do; and Los Angeles police detective Jamie Estrada (played by Natalie Morales), who follows the lead of her male colleagues and has a very thankless role in the investigation.

Deke is a deputy who works in the Kern County Sheriff Department, which is about 133 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s a much more rural area than Los Angeles, where Deke used to work as a sergeant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide department until he left under a cloud of bad circumstances. While investigating this serial killer, Deke was suspended and had what’s described by a former colleague as a dangerous, stress-related emotional “meltdown.” He also had a heart attack.

Deke’s abrupt departure from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department caused some hard feelings from his former co-workers there. One of them is Deke’s former boss Carl Farris (played by Terry Kinney), the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s homicide captain who ended up replacing Deke with Jimmy. Carl describes Deke’s exit from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department as Deke being “run out” of the department, while Deke describes it as choosing to leave on his own.

It just so happens that Deke has to go back to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department to pick up evidence for a robbery case that he’s working on in Kern County. And what do you know, one of the first people Deke meets when he goes back to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department is Jimmy, who’s annoyed that Deke’s truck is blocking Jimmy’s parking space. It’s not exactly a “meet cute” moment, but people who won’t know anything about this movie before watching it can immediately tell from this scene that Deke and Jimmy will end up spending a lot of time together.

Deke finds out there’s going to be delay in getting the evidence he needs, so his former boss Carl sarcastically tells Deke he can kill some time by catching up with his former colleagues. One of the few people in the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department who’s still willing to be cordial to Deke is a detective named Sal Rizoli (played by Chris Bauer), who tells Deke over a meal at a diner that things just aren’t the same since Deke left the department. Sal says that the current department employees are “a bunch of nancies” who’ve “got no soul” and the department head honchos have “weeded all the heart out of the place.” Sal describes Jimmy as a “good cop, a college boy, a bit of a holy roller.”

Jimmy and Deke couldn’t have more different lifestyles. Deke is a divorced father of two adult daughters, and he lives by himself in a small, ramshackle house out in the desert. Jimmy is happily married with two young daughters, and he lives in a comfortably middle-class and well-kept home. Deke is not religious and is very jaded about life. Jimmy is supposedly religious and “by the book,” but this shoddily written movie doesn’t really show proof of that, because Jimmy ends up breaking all kinds of laws in his obsessive quest to solve the murders and arrest Albert.

Through a series of implausible circumstances, Jimmy invites Deke to help him investigate the murders, even though Deke is only supposed to be in town for a few days and the cases are out of Deke’s jurisdiction. The evidence that Deke is supposed to bring back to Kern County for an upcoming court case ends up being completely ignored in the rest of the story. That’s how bad this movie is.

Albert becomes a prime suspect because he works for a small-business appliance store that was called to repair a refrigerator in a young woman’s apartment. She ended up getting slaughtered on the day that Albert was supposed to be there for the repair appointment. And so, Deke and Jimmy immediately zero in on oddball Albert after some snooping around at his seedy apartment building. He’s also on their radar because eight years ago, Albert confessed to one of the murders and knew certain details that the killer would know, but he wasn’t held responsible for the murder because he had an alibi when the crime happened.

“The Little Things” wants to keep viewers guessing over whether Albert is the serial killer or if he’s just a nutjob who wants the police to think that he’s the culprit. There are too many plot holes to mention, including how the movie never explains how in a large urban area such as Los Angeles, the police are so sure that all of these murders are being done by the same person. In “Seven,” the serial killer left very specific clues so that law enforcement knew the same person was committing the murders. In “Little Things,” there is no such proof.

Instead, the movie is more concerned about showing the over-used crime movie trope of the “world-weary cop” partnered with the “eager-beaver cop” and how their personalities clash before they learn to work together for the same cause. What Jimmy and Deke have in common is that they’re both obsessed with finding the killer. Getting back on this serial killer case also seems to trigger something disturbing in Deke, because he starts to hallucinate seeing the dead women come to life in his dumpy motel room and in other places. And Deke talks to the corpses. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Washington does a passable job of playing Deke as a cynical and emotionally wounded cop who’s haunted by his past, but “The Little Things” is a very forgettable entry to his impressive body of work. Malek is stuck playing a generic character who makes an implausible switch from being stringent and uptight to being a rogue cop who breaks the law with Deke. Among other law violations, Jimmy acts as a lookout/getaway driver when Deke intrudes in Albert’s apartment, while Albert is away, to look for and possibly steal evidence. Any cop or good screenwriter would know that this illegal break-in would make the evidence inadmissible in court, but it’s in this ludicrous movie anyway.

Leto makes the most effort to bring some unpredictability and nuance to his Albert character, but his performance is hindered by the substandard screenplay that doesn’t give Albert much to do except act like a weird scumbag and annoy Deke and Jimmy. And if these “detectives” are so great, why haven’t they investigated Albert’s activities over time to possibly tie him to the murders? Doing a couple of stakeouts just wouldn’t pass muster in the real world of homicide detective work.

“The Little Things” wants viewers to believe that these murders can be solved at lightning-fast speed during the few days that Deke is in Los Angeles. But ironically, the film moves at a sluggish and mind-numbing pace. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is often cringeworthy too. At one point, Jimmy tells Deke when they have one of their personality clashes: “If you piss on my leg and call it rain, we’re through.”

The movie gets its title because Deke has a mantra that “the little things” count in an investigation, and criminals often get caught because of “the little things” they do when they make mistakes. In other words, Deke is one of those cops who believes in the old saying, “The devil is in the details.” Unfortunately, “The Little Things” is very careless with details, and a more appropriate title for the movie is “The Big Plot Holes.”

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Little Things” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on January 29, 2021.

Jared Leto reveals his snapshot of American culture in his documentary ‘A Day in the Life of America’

April 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jared Leto at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Carla Hay)

“A Day in the Life of America,” directed by Jared Leto, is a documentary that’s exactly what the title says it is: It’s a compilation of footage filmed in various parts of the United States over the course of single day. In this movie, that day was July 4, 2017 (Independence Day), when Leto dispatched 92 camera crews to get footage of people living their lives and voicing their opinions on what America means to them. (Click here for Culture Mix’s review of the film.)

The results show a wide range of emotions and opinions that reflect the diversity—and divisiveness—of the United States. “A Day in the Life of America” had its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. After the screening, Leto (who is also the lead singer/chief songwriter of rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars) sat down for a Q&A, where he answered questions from a moderator and some members of the audience. Here is what he said.

You’ve said this documentary was inspired by National Geographic’s “A Day in the Life” book series. Can you elaborate on why these books captured your attention?

I just think it’s the idea that you could use creativity, use art to further understanding about culture, about society. As a kid, I was just compelled by the images. I encourage everybody to check out that book [“A Day in the Life of America”], because it’s still fascinating to see.

The artists, the photographers, they all found images you didn’t really expect—things that you didn’t necessarily see every day, and it showed you a part of the world that you hadn’t visited. I always love when films do that. I guess that’s what I love about documentary films—they take you to a part of the world or to parts of someone’s life you’d never been to before.

There are parts of the film I don’t agree with, but I thought it was really important to … not censor who we are, who our neighbors are, who America is, and try to give an accurate depiction of the nation in this really tumultuous and important time. Watching the film with everybody made me want to spend more time with certain characters.

Jade Jackson in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Gabe Mayhan and Gabe Gentry)

You mentioned that we’re living in a tumultuous time. Was there a particular incident for you that inspired you to make the film?

It started with the music. It started with the album [“America,” Thirty Seconds to Mars’ 2018 album]. I am in a band. And I had an idea to make an album where I would travel around the country, I would interview people, and I would write songs loosely wrapped in the people and places that I heard.

But I did it kind of backwards. I ended up writing this album, and I thought, “Man, maybe this is that ‘America’ album that I’ve always wanted to do.” And I ended up making the companion piece [the documentary film], and did a couple of other crazy things across the country, but that’s another story.

What criteria did you have in deciding which footage would go into the film?

That’s a good question. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hundreds of hours of footage we have. We were just buried in footage. We couldn’t make a film much longer than this. It was really hard to decide what to include or not. There are so many stories that are compelling. And when you make a film, that’s part of the challenge. What do you include? What don’t you include?

It’s interesting to see people you may not agree with. I’m not so sure I agree with Mr. Drinking Man With a Gun, but I really want to spend a little more time with him. That’s what’s kind of cool about the movie … You don’t have to agree with everybody on all fronts to get along with them, to have them be your neighbor, to have them be your friend. And that’s kind of a really nice thing. But it was hard.

And 10,000 people [from the general public] also contributed. We had our 92 crews, and most of the footage—I would say 95 percent of the footage—came from the crews, because the quality of footage was better, the storytelling was a little bit more succinct and consistent. But some of the footage that you saw at the end was from the footage that was crowdsourced.

DeAndre Upshaw and Stuart Hausmann in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Evett Rolsten)

Part of this documentary project involved asking people who don’t live in the United States to give their opinions of America. That footage wasn’t really a part of the film. What did you find out from that footage?

Should I tell you the truth? You can probably imagine. I did ask people from all over the world to send in their thoughts, because I was thinking of including that. You’ve got to ask your neighbors if you want to get an accurate depiction of who you are.

We did end up using that footage. We kept [the movie] in the States, with the exception of the Space Station. Things that were broadcast on the news or radio were also fair game. This [footage in the documentary] is all one day, and it’s just a tiny tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot that happens in this country. But the footage that we got outside the States was interesting.

What was the most important lesson you learned through this process?

It’s always a good reminder that ideas are pretty worthless unless you do something about it. This is a film that was an idea for a really long time, and it’s fun to see it become a reality, to dig in, get a great group of people together, and go make something happen.

I love to tell stories. I love to make things and show things with the world, and it’s an absolutely amazing thing to do. I never take it for granted. It’s great to watch it with you guys. I learned so much talking with you. [He says jokingly] And I’m going to take the film now, and totally ruin it, and make into five-minute episodes for Instagram.

Renan Ozturk in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Renan Ozturk)

This movie seems awfully dark. Did you did find a lot of people who were patriotic, or did you think it wasn’t worth including?

We did find quite a bit of optimism. We didn’t ask people to film dark stuff. I think we were specific about some things—events we wanted to capture, certain people we wanted to spend time with—but we didn’t dictate what stories people told. We didn’t dictate a point of view. We went to every single state in the country, so we didn’t avoid areas.

It is dark, but I do hear a surprising amount of optimism. I hear people go, “Yeah, shit’s pretty tough right now, but I still think we can do it,” which is pretty incredible. What’s so important about America and the American dream is that we have instilled inside of us this idea that with hard work, with passion, with help from our friends and neighbors, that anything is possible. And I still took that away, personally, from the film.

It’s a tough world out there for a lot of people in this country, and that’s what we see. But I didn’t write the script. I’m just the messenger, so it’s really your movie. It’s not mine. I just held up the mirror with 92 other [camera crews].

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘A Day in the Life of America’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

A Day in the Life of America
DeAndre Upshaw and Stuart Hausmann in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Evett Rolsten)

“A Day in the Life of America”

Directed by Jared Leto

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival  in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto, who is also the lead singer/songwriter of the rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, has been steadily building a portfolio of interesting work as a director—beginning with Thirty Seconds to Mars videos, and progressing to the award-winning 2012 documentary feature “Artifact” (which chronicled the band’s fight to get out of its contract with EMI Music) and the non-fiction digital series “Beyond the Horizon” and “Great Wide Open.” The documentary “A Day in the Life of America” is his most ambitious directorial project so far. Inspired by National Geographic’s “A Day in the Life” book series, the documentary is a fascinating mosaic of people in the United States, all filmed on a single day: July 4, 2017. Leto solicited video footage from the public, but the majority of what made it into the final cut of the movie is footage that was professionally filmed by the 92 camera crews that Leto dispatched across the United States to capture everyday people on Independence Day. The documentary is also a companion piece to Thirty Seconds to Mars’ 2018 album “America.”

Because we’re living in an era where millions of people have put their video diaries on the Internet, one of the documentary’s biggest accomplishments is that it takes all of that type of noise and shapes it into an eclectic and riveting symphony of varied human perspectives. Not all of it is easy to digest. There are so many contrasting viewpoints expressed in the documentary, that people watching this film are bound to see things that will make them angry, sad, offended, entertained, hopeful and inspired. The movie’s top-notch editing, seamless cinematography and compelling Thirty Seconds to Mars music score all contribute to making “A Day in the Life of America” an engrossing cinematic journey. The movie does not interview political pundits or news commentators to give their distracting opinions. The people in the movie are not identified by name when we see them talk. It’s a wise decision, because what everyday people have to say in this movie is more important than the possibility that anyone could become a star by being in this film.

“A Day in the Life of America,” whose main scenes are shown in chronological order, begins with a pregnant woman going into labor during a home birth. During the course of the documentary, viewers hear from a wide variety of people from just about every region of the United States. In Arkansas, two drunk redneck men fire assault rifles in the air, and complain that white Americans are a dying breed. In California, a porn actress is shown working on the set of one of her movies and talks about how much she loves her job. In New York, a Hasidic trans woman shares her experiences of what it feels like to be discriminated against in and outside her religion. In West Virginia, a young, white single mother who’s addicted to meth smokes the drug on camera, and expresses shame and guilt for not being a good parent. In Texas, a gay black man at a skating rink expresses his thoughts on LGBTQ rights and the ongoing fight to be accepted in the same way as heterosexuals.

On the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., people who are gathered at the Capitol Building range from Donald Trump supporters to anti-Trump protesters. Trump and wife Melania are shown greeting the crowd outside the White House. Speaking of Trump, his administration’s Muslim ban—and people’s contrasting views about it—are given notable screen time in this movie.

For many viewers, the most emotionally triggering aspect of “A Day in the Life of America” is the movie’s raw look at racism. In North Carolina, male and female members of the Ku Klux Klan are shown planning for a race war and spewing hatred against people who aren’t white and Christian. In Louisiana, African American adults talk about how there are two Americas: one that gives more privileges to whites and one where people who aren’t white still have to struggle to be accepted as equals. Meanwhile, the black kids in the Louisiana footage express more optimism about the future, saying that America represents freedom to them.

One of the movie’s effective devices is how contrasting viewpoints are edited right next to each other. After the KKK members from North Carolina are shown ranting that immigrants are ruining America, the next footage shows Native Americans in South Dakota celebrating their heritage. In another scene, there’s a ceremony where people are becoming U.S. citizens. The next scene is of white nationalist American Freedom Party members gathered for a meeting and talking about how they want their own country so they can have stricter laws against immigration. There’s a scene with people dressed as Revolutionary War-era Americans during a patriotic ceremony in Virginia. That footage is followed by a scene of a Muslim teenage girl in a boxing ring talking about how she won a hard-fought legal battle for her right to wear a hijab while boxing.

The documentary also takes a searing look at crime in America, particularly in how crime disproportionately affects black people. In Chicago, black residents in a working-class neighborhood express fear and sadness on the Fourth of July when they can’t tell if they’re hearing fireworks or gunshots. During filming, police arrive because a boy got shot. (The shooting is not in the movie.) In Detroit, young black residents on the streets are jaded and pessimistic about their future. In Oklahoma, a black man in prison (the details of his criminal record aren’t mentioned) talks about not getting justice and feeling like he’s invisible.

Health care is another big issue that’s covered in the movie. Tennis player Sebastien Jacques (who recovered from a life-threatening brain tumor) is shown in Kansas during his Walk Across America campaign to promote hope in dealing with health problems. That footage is in contrast to the next scene that shows a bed-ridden man dying from cancer.

Of course, it’s impossible for one movie to capture all the subcultures and issues that exist in the United States. For example, the wealthiest “one-percent” of people in America are noticeably absent from the film’s featured interviews. It would have been great to include the perspective of a self-made billionaire—not necessarily someone who’s famous, but someone who represents what is often described as the ultimate American Dream. Even though the super-wealthy aren’t really given a spotlight as a contrast to all the poor and middle-class people who highlighted are in the movie, “A Day in the Life of America” does a fairly comprehensive job of capturing a great deal of the contemporary diversity that exists in the United States. Simply put: “A Day in the Life of America” just might be the most honest documentary about the United States that could be released this year, because it’s the collective voices of people in America speaking their truths.

UPDATE: PBS’s “Independent Lens” series will premiere “A Day in the Life of America” on January 11, 2021.

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