Review: ‘Lorelei’ (2021), starring Pablo Schreiber and Jena Malone

August 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber in “Lorelei” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Lorelei” (2021)

Directed by Sabrina Doyle

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oregon and briefly in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Lorelei” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After serving 15 years in prison for armed robbery, a recently released ex-convict reconnects with his high school sweetheart, who is now a single mother of three children, and they have challenges as he tries to get his life back on track. 

Culture Audience: “Lorelei” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic dramas about ex-convicts and about working-class Americans who are living right on the edge of poverty.

Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, Jena Malone, Amelia Borgerding and Chancellor Perry in “Lorelei” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The reason for the title of the dramatic film “Lorelei” isn’t revealed until the last 10 minutes of the movie. Until then, viewers are taken on a roller coaster ride of a relationship between an ex-con and his former girlfriend, who reunite after he gets out of prison. It’s a well-acted portrait of forgiveness, trust and how emotional stakes can be high when people with troubled pasts are given a chance at redemption.

“Lorelei” is an impressive feature-film debut by writer/director Sabrina Doyle, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who is originally from England. She’s made a very authentic-looking movie about working-class life in the United States that presents an unvarnished but empathetic view of what it means to be one or two paychecks away from poverty. “Lorelei” takes place in an unnamed city in Oregon, but the struggles shown in the movie are reflective of what millions of people around the world can and do experience in similar circumstances.

The movie’s title suggests that the story’s main protagonist is a woman. However, “Lorelei” is actually told from the point of view of a man named Wayland Beckett (played by Pablo Schreiber), a member of a biker gang who has recently been released from prison, after serving 15 years for armed robbery. (Schreiber is best-known to TV audiences as a former co-star of the motorcycle gang drama series “Sons of Anarchy.”)

Wayland was in his late teens when he went to prison for this crime. Now in his early 40s, Wayland has to find a way to adjust to life outside prison when so much of the outside world has changed. When he walks out of prison, he’s greeted by several members of his biker buddies, who then throw a bonfire party for him to celebrate his release from prison.

Luckily for Wayland, he has a place to live after his prison release. He’s staying at a spare room at a church, where in exchange for free room and board, he has agreed to do regular chores and maintenance for the church. His living situation is much like a halfway house, because he has to abide by the rules set by his supervisor at the church: Pastor Gail (played by Trish Egan), who tells Wayland that she’s also available to him for counseling.

“You know I don’t believe in God, right?” Wayland asks Pastor Gail. She replies, “That’s okay. Just stay out of jail.” The rules are pretty simple: No drugs, no alcohol and no illegal activity on the premises. Unlike the rules at a typical halfway house, this church does not make Wayland have a curfew.

Pastor Gail is involved in a lot of charity work, such as food donations to underprivileged people. At the church, she also leads meetings for people dealing with various issues, but the meetings come with a certain amount of religious lecturing. Wayland comments to Pastor Gail in a teasing tone of voice, “The problem with do-gooders is that nobody likes them.” Pastor Gail replies, “I never gave a shit about being liked. I just believe that people deserve second chances—maybe three or four.”

One day, Pastor Gail asks for Wayland’s help to prepare a room for a meeting to be held that evening for single mothers. Wayland hangs around when the meeting starts. And he sees someone from his past whom he hasn’t seen since he was in prison. Her name is Dolores (played by Jena Malone), but she sometimes goes by the nickname Lola, which is what her three kids call her. And she was Wayland’s girlfriend when they were in high school together.

Wayland and Dolores began dating each other when they were both 15. Viewers will find out in bits and pieces what happened to Dolores and Wayland’s high school romance and why they broke up. Their full story is told in a few flashbacks, but mostly through conversations that Wayland and Dolores have about the past.

At the church meeting, Wayland and Dolores make eye contact, and she excuses herself from the meeting to talk to him outside. Based on their body language and how they look at each other, there’s still some romantic heat and unfinished business between the two of them. Dolores and Wayland haven’t seen each other since he went to prison. They stayed in touch for a little while after he was sent to prison, but they eventually ended their contact while he was incarcerated.

When they were a couple, Dolores (who was a star swimmer on her high school team) and Wayland had planned to move to Los Angeles together after high school. But Wayland got caught up in criminal activities with his biker gang called the Night Horsemen, which led to the armed robbery that landed him in prison. Dolores began dating other people, and she had to drop out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child.

Dolores, who now works as a motel maid, seems pleasantly surprised to see that Wayland is now out of prison. They immediately make plans for a date at a bar after the church meeting. Based on how quickly Dolores runs out of the church meeting when it’s over, she’s eagerly anticipating this date. When Wayland picks her up in his truck, he sheepishly tells her that he doesn’t have any cash. She doesn’t seem to mind too much and she offers to pay for whatever they order at the bar.

During their reunion conversation, Dolores gives a brief update on her life by telling him that she has three kids. Dolores assures Wayland that he’s definitely not the father of her first child, a boy named Dodger Blue (played by Chancellor Perry), who is now 15. She describes Dodger’s father as a “nobody” and a meaningless fling. “I couldn’t even tell you his name,” Dolores says. Later, when Wayland meets Dodger, he knows for sure that he’s not the father because Dodger is biracial, with a black biological father.

The date ends with Dolores inviting Wayland back to her modest house to spend the night. Unlike most movies which portray ex-cons who’ve been recently let out of prison as very horny and ready to have sex with the first available partner, “Lorelei” shows that Wayland is hesitant and insecure in this intimate moment. He whispers to Dolores, “I don’t even know how to do this anymore.”

Dolores is kind and patient with Wayland, who isn’t ready to be fully intimate with her. She asks him if he fooled around wth men in prison, and he says no. They spend the night together cuddling, but they eventually make up for this chaste date with their first night of passion together in years.

The next morning, Wayland is introduced to Dolores’ children. All three of her kids have different biological fathers, who are not involved in raising them. Dodger is a typical teen who is somewhat rebellious. His mother lets him vape in the house, but she doesn’t allow him to do drink alcohol or do drugs. He likes to weightlift and hasn’t decided what he wants to do with his life yet. Later in the story, he tells Wayland that he’s thinking about joining the military after he graduates from high school.

Dolores’ middle child is sassy 12-year-old daughter Periwinkle Blue (played by Amelia Borgerding), nicknamed Peri. Dolores later tells Wayland that Peri’s biological father was a “lowlife” meth addict. Peri is an obedient child overall but shows a great deal of resentment toward Dolores and has a tendency to talk rudely to her. Why the hostility? Peri thinks Dolores is a flaky mother who gives special treatment to her other two kids, especially Dodger.

Dolores’ youngest child is sweet-natured 6-year-old Denim (played by Parker Pascoe-Sheppard), whose assigned gender at birth was male, but there are signs that Denim is a transgender female. Denim only wants to wear Peri’s feminine-identifying clothes and doesn’t want to wear clothes that look like boys’ outfits. Dolores later tells Wayland that Denim’s father was one of Dodger’s schoolteachers, who was married and moved out of the area with his wife and kids soon after finding out that Dolores was pregnant with his child.

The first time that Wayland talks to Dodger, the teenager is lifting weights. When Wayland offers some weightlifting advice, Dodger is rude and standoffish. Peri and Denim are more accepting of Wayland soon after they meet him.

However, the cold response from Dodger makes Wayland uncomfortable, and Wayland skips out on Dolores’ invitation to stay for breakfast. Wayland says he needs to use the bathroom. Instead, he leaves by the house’s back door without saying goodbye.

The next time Dolores sees Wayland, she’s furious at how he snuck out and snubbed her and her family. He says he’s sorry, and she quickly forgives him. Viewers can see where this relationship is going to go. And it does go that way: Wayland ends up moving in with Dolores and becomes a stepfather figure to the kids.

Pastor Gail believes that ex-cons are less likely to re-offend if they’re in a stable relationship with a love partner. She wrote a recommendation to Wayland’s parole officer Raf Ortiz (played by Joseph Bertót) to give permission for Wayland to move out of the church’s spare room and move in with Dolores. However, Raf warns Wayland about the pressures of raising children. The parole officer is skeptical that Wayland can find a job that can pay enough money to support a household of five people.

And finding this type of job is one of the toughest challenges for Wayland, whose options are limited since a lot of places won’t hire ex-prisoners who were convicted of felonies. To make some quick money, Wayland sells his blood. His foul-mouthed cousin Violet (played by Dana Millican) happens to see Wayland coming out of plasma center while she’s driving down the street, and she offers to put in a good word for him at a local auto parts shop/junkyard. It’s kind of a hilarious scene because Violet has this conversation while she stopped her car on the street. Drivers behind her get irritated, and she curses at them to drive around her.

Wayland gets a part-time job at the auto shop, but the salary is very low. (His first paycheck is only a little more than $126.) With financial pressure increasing, Wayland is tempted to take an offer from his biker friend Kurt (played by Ryan Findley) to do some work for Kurt in Kurt’s drug-dealing business. The movie shows whether or not Wayland takes Kurt’s offer.

“Lorelei” shows in a very naturalistic way how Wayland’s relationships with Dolores and her children evolve and go through ups and downs. He eventually learns to trust of all of the children. Peri gets along with Wayland so well that she makes it clear that she likes Wayland more than she likes Dolores, which leads to Dolores feeling hurt and jealous. There’s a sequence involving Peri’s birthday that exemplifies this turmoil.

Dolores’ kids are never shown at school, but there’s mention of the bullying they get because other students tease them for coming from a “trashy” family. In addition, Denim is bullied for being a gender non-conforming child. It’s a problem that neither Dolores nor Wayland really know how to handle.

Dolores is frustrated over being in a dead-end job and wondering what would have happened if she and Wayland had moved to Los Angeles. Wayland seems content to stay in Oregon, so there’s a question if that will be dealbreaker in this relationship. And there are signs that Dolores hasn’t given up her passion for swimming.

The movie has some artistic-looking dream sequences that are supposed to be reminiscent of one of Wayland and Dolores’ best dates when they were teenagers: When they went to a beach to look at the ocean. “Lorelei” creatively uses the ocean and swimming as metaphors for escape, drowning in fear, or a sort of rebirth.

One of the more realistic aspects of “Lorelei” is that it doesn’t tie up Wayland’s financial problems nicely in a neat little bow. For example, in one part of the movie, Wayland impulsively buys an old, run-down ice cream truck that can still operate. Wayland can’t really explain why he bought this truck, but he has vague plans that he might refurbish the truck to start his own ice-cream truck business.

It’s not really spoiler information to reveal that the movie never shows if Wayland followed through on this sort-of goal, because it’s very true-to-life that many people act this way with unfocused goals that they might or might not pursue. The ice cream truck is almost symbolic of how Wayland wishes that he could go back to simpler times when he was a child. At any rate, Denim and Peri love the truck, which is used as somewhat of a device for comic relief, when Wayland drives this conspicuous ice-cream truck in some sketchy situations involving the biker gang.

“Lorelei” might be a letdown to viewers who are expecting a more action-oriented or more melodramatic film instead of the naturalistic way that this movie flows in telling the story. Dolores and Wayland have arguments that are believable. Their rekindled romance doesn’t go smoothly like a fairytale. And there are no real villains in the story—just people trying to get by in the best way that they can.

Malone’s compelling portrayal of Dolores is of someone who’s been damaged and disappointed by life. She loves her kids, but she thinks they deserve better than what she can offer to them. And that feeling of not being “good enough” has slowly chipped away at her core sense of self until she makes a decision to try to try to heal herself in the best way that she can.

Wayland’s emotional arc in “Lorelei” is a lot easier to predict, but Schreiber’s portrayal of this complicated character is still intriguing to watch. At one point in the movie, Wayland says that being in prison changed him. It’s up to viewers to figure out or intepret how he’s changed, since the flashbacks to his teenage years with Dolores are very brief. Schreiber gives a spot-on performance of someone who’s gradually learning that vulnerability can co-exist with masculinity.

It’s also fascinating to watch how Wayland adjusts to becoming an instant “stepfather.” There are moments that will pull at viewers’ heartstrings when Denim asks Wayland more than once if Denim can call him “Dad.” Wayland’s response is a little different every time.

As Dolores’ children, actors Perry, Borgerding and Pascoe-Sheppard make admirable feature-film debuts in “Lorelei.” In real life, Pascoe-Sheppard is non-binary, using the pronoun “they” for their identity, according to the “Lorelei” production notes. Kudos to director Doyle for making the effort to cast a gender-non-conforming role with an actor who is gender-non-conforming instead of taking the easier path of casting a cisgender actor in the role.

“Lorelei” is a specific story about an emotionally wounded couple and the children they are raising, but the movie effectively speaks to universal truths about how insecurities and being held back by past mistakes can affect people’s perceptions of themselves and others. And the movie is ultimately a meaningful story showing that family is not what you’re born into but what you make of it.

Vertical Entertainment released “Lorelei” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on JUly 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Stardust’ (2020), starring Johnny Flynn, Jena Malone and Marc Maron

December 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aaron Poole and Johnny Flynn in “Stardust” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Stardust” (2020)

Directed by Gabriel Range

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1971, in England and various parts of the United States, the drama “Stardust” features an all-white cast of characters in a fictional interpretation of David Bowie and his early career.

Culture Clash: Bowie goes on a promotional tour of America and is frustrated by getting a mostly confused reaction or lack of interest from the music industry and music consumers.

Culture Audience: “Stardust” tries to appeal to Bowie fans, but the movie is a sloppily made bore that’s an insult to Bowie’s legacy.

Johnny Flynn and Marc Maron in “Stardust” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

British rock star David Bowie was a fascinating, vibrant and legendary artist. But you’d never know it by how the dreadfully dull and shoddy film “Stardust” tries to tarnish his legacy by portraying Bowie in 1971 as a petulant hack who cared more about looking like a moody artist than actually creating any art. You don’t have to be a Bowie fan to know that his creativity was perhaps his most-admired trait as an artist. “Stardust” looks like the filmmakers cared more about replicating Bowie’s crooked teeth than making a reasonably good movie.

Needless to say, Bowie’s family/estate had nothing to do with this embarrassing mess of a film. Bowie, who died of cancer in 2016, never wanted to write a memoir or have a movie made about his life. But “Stardust” writer/director Gabriel Range clearly didn’t respect that wish and wanted a cash grab of a movie while trying to boost his career as a filmmaker. The result is an insulting film that blatantly uses the famous name of an artist with real talent and warps the artist’s story by making the artist look very untalented.

To make matters worse, Range gave this statement in the “Stardust” production notes: “I’ve been fascinated by Bowie ever since I was a kid. I bought every record, read every interview, every biography.” Really? Based on the way that “Stardust” turned out, it looks like Range forgot everything he heard and read about Bowie and replaced it with this delusional story: Bowie is a wannabe rock star who has a creative breakthrough only when he rips off an idea in a therapy session while visiting his schizophrenic brother in a psychiatric institution.

Until “Stardust” gets to this ludicrously bad plot development near the end of the film, it’s a sluggish and often-idiotic slog that makes the movie’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll clichés look like pathetic posturing by woefully miscast actors. The casting in this movie is simply atrocious, with actors in their 30s and 40s portraying people who were supposed to be in their 20s at the time this story takes place in 1971. Bowie, his band mates, his wife Angie, and Bowie’s good friend Marc Bolan (the lead singer of T. Rex) are among the characters who are cast with age-inappropriate actors who seem to be doing parodies of the real people.

The only actor who actually comes close to looking and sounding like an authentic showbiz person from this time period is Marc Maron. He portrays a smarmy American publicist named Ron Oberman, who works for Mercury Records (Bowie’s record label at the time) and volunteers to chaperone Bowie during Bowie’s disastrous 1971 tour of America. This tour takes up about 80% of the movie.

Ron was a real person, but he never did this type of road trip with Bowie in real life. Because Ron wasn’t famous, most people in the general public won’t know how accurately the movie portrays his personality. However, Maron at least realistically depicts how publicists in the music business often act when they’re desperate to get media coverage for an artist whose most recent album is considered a flop.

Although there’s a disclaimer in the beginning of “Stardust” that says, “What follows is (mostly) fictional,” it’s a moronic statement. That’s because the filmmakers didn’t change real-life people’s names, album titles, song titles and other major identifiers about Bowie’s life in this story. A more accurate statement would have been: “What follows is (mostly) a ripoff of Bowie’s life and legacy.”

British actor Johnny Flynn portrays David Bowie (whose birth surname was Jones) in “Stardust.” Flynn has the misfortune of being stuck in the aforementioned crooked teeth (the movie’s most accurate replication from Bowie’s life) and in cheap-looking wigs. Flynn tries and mostly fails at capturing the charismatic and mysterious essence of Bowie. (For the purposes of this review, the Bowie character in the movie will be identified as David, while the real-life Bowie will be referred to as Bowie.)

In real life, Bowie had an elegant, otherworldly aura about him, while Flynn depicts Bowie as a pouty and confused dandy who looks like he’s a rejected extra who wandered off of the set of filmmaker Todd Haynes’ 1998 Bowie-inspired drama “Velvet Goldmine,” which was also set in the 1970s. There are moments when Flynn attempts to portray Bowie as a misunderstood, tortured soul. But the acting is too affected and too mired in insufferably inane dialogue.

Flynn does his own singing in “Stardust,” which obviously couldn’t get the rights to any of Bowie’s original studio recordings or any songs written by Bowie. Instead, viewers get snippets of third-rate performances of Flynn as David on stage, singing cover versions of other artists’ songs, such as Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” and Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” and “My Death.” There’s also a performance of “Good Ol’ Jane,” an original song written by Flynn that sounds like a wannabe Velvet Underground tune.

And this is very much a solo tour. Bowie’s band members, including guitarist Mick Ronson (played by Aaron Poole), are not on this trip. And therefore, the band members are barely in the movie.

In the beginning of “Stardust” (which mainly takes place in 1971, but jumps back and forth in time with David’s flashbacks), David arrives at an airport in Washington, D.C., and immediately stands out as a “freak” because he’s very androgynous-looking. As customs officials go through David’s luggage and see that he has feminine-looking clothes in his suitcase, one of the officials holds up a dress and looks at it with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.

David says pretentiously, “It’s a man’s dress. It’s by Michael Fish. He invented the kipper tie.” The customs official could care less. Later on, David is asked during an interview in the customs area if he is gay (David is advised to answer no, so he says no) or has any mental illnesses. This question about mental illness triggers a series of flashbacks to David spending time with his older half-brother Terry Burns (played by Derek Moran), who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent time in a psychiatric institution, as did the real Terry Burns.

Through these various flashbacks, viewers see that Terry, who’s about 10 years older than David, was David’s greatest inspiration when he was growing up. Terry was the first person to introduce David to music. And the movie pushes a narrative that David’s “The Man Who Sold the World” album (released in the U.S. in November 1970 and in the U.K. in April 1971) was largely inspired by David’s fears that he might inherit his family’s history of mental illness, since David’s maternal aunts and maternal grandmother were also schizophrenic. The album track “All the Madmen” was supposed to be about Terry and David’s relationship, according to this movie.

“The Man Who Sold the World” album wasn’t the big hit that David had with his 1969 self-titled second album, which yielded his breakthrough single “Space Oddity.” In the movie, David is seen having several tense meetings about his career, because he’s in danger of being considered a one-hit wonder, and there’s talk that Mercury Records might drop him.

In England, David’s manager Tony Defries (played by Julian Richings) and David’s wife Angie (played by Jena Malone) lecture David on what they think is best for his career. (In real life, Bowie’s manager at the time was Tony DeVries.) Tony tells David that “The Man Who Sold the World” album is considered “too dark and weird for the Yanks.” Tony mentions to David that publicist Ron Oberman is supposedly the only person at Mercury Records who cares about David.

Angie is an American, but she puts on airs with a fake accent where she tries to sound British. During the tour, she’s pregnant at the Bowies’ home in England, although the movie never shows her giving birth in May 1971 to David and Angie’s son, who was then known as Zowie Bowie, but he now goes by the name Duncan Jones. In the movie, not once does David show any concern for his unborn child. David doesn’t even mention his child. It’s simply horrendous how the movie makes him look like a cold, uncaring father, when in reality (by all accounts) he was a more nurturing parent to Duncan/Zowie than Angie was.

In real life, David and Angie Bowie were very open about being bisexual swingers, which is depicted in the movie as Angie reacting this way when a young woman attempts to seduce David at a party, with Angie nearby. Angie says haughtily to this would-be mistress: “If you want him, you have to go through me.” Angie then gives the woman a passionate kiss on the mouth and tells her that she can join her and David in the bedroom later. T. Rex singer Bolan (played by James Cade) makes a cameo at this party by giving a badly written speech about the joys of taking LSD, as if he’s trying to be the next Timothy Leary.

Angie is depicted as someone who loved to tell people that she and David had an unconventional marriage. But in this movie, she falls into a very conventional “wife of a musician” stereotype of being a nagging shrew who complains that David doesn’t pay more attention to her when he’s away on tour. She also fancies herself as a wheeler dealer who can take control of certain aspects of David’s career, even though the movie doesn’t show her actually doing anything business-minded, except trying to get Ron fired because David’s career in America isn’t going as well as she hopes it will.

During the road trip with Ron in America, David gets a rude awakening when he thinks he’s going to be treated like a star. Instead, he’s mostly treated like an oddball nobody. Rather than staying at a five-star hotel as he expected when he first arrives in America, David stays at the house of Ron’s parents until David and Ron begin their road trip, with Ron doing the driving. Ron is middle-aged and divorced with no kids. It’s implied that Ron still lives with his parents.

Ron thinks David is a genius and tells him that repeatedly. This fast-talking publicist is convinced that he can persuade people into believing the same way about David. However, based on the things that people in the music industry say to Ron and how he’s treated, Ron doesn’t get much respect because his career has gone nowhere and he’s considered kind of a joke.

David’s management in England botched the immigration paperwork, so David doesn’t find out until he arrives in America that he doesn’t have a work visa to perform music during this visit. In other words, the “Stardust” filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to Bowie’s music so they had to think of a reason in the plot to explain why Bowie’s original songs aren’t in the movie. Despite David being told that he can’t perform any of his music on the tour, the movie still shows David performing anyway. Ron books David at a hotel convention for vacuum salespeople, and a humiliated David performs in a hotel bar to a very straight-laced crowd that largely ignores him.

Ron arranges interviews with David and influential people in the media, but David grows increasingly difficult and deliberately sabotages the interviews. An interview with a magazine journalist named Tom Classon (played by Ryan Blakeley) only happens after Ron pathetically begs Tom to interview David. Tom doesn’t like “The Man Who Sold the World” album, but only agrees to interview David to get Ron to stop pestering him about it. During the interview, David acts weird and standoffish and then does part of his pantomime act. And Tom literally laughs as he abruptly ends the interview.

At a nightclub bar after another underwhelming performance, Ron introduces David to Jeanie Richards (played by Annie Briggs), a music writer for a major publication called Skyline. But instead of having a conversation with her, as Ron is expecting, David decides to hang out with another woman he met that night whose pickup line was: “Do you want to do some coke with me?” David and this random woman then do cocaine and have sex in a back room while Jeanie waits at the bar for David to come back to talk to her. He never does.

And at a radio station in the Midwest, Ron tells David that the radio station has a wholesome reputation, so he asks David to keep the interview “clean.” But David alienates the DJ (played by David Huband) by giving bizarre and raunchy answers in the interview. The DJ suddenly ends the interview and changes David’s record to play something else.

After Ron and David leave the radio station, Ron predictably gets angry at David for ruining the interview. They argue and David shouts: “I feel like I’m in a carnival sideshow—without the carnival … I came here to be a star!”

David’s entitlement is completely obnoxious because he wants to be a star, but he doesn’t want to do any real work, and he’s disrespectful to people who are trying to help him in his career. Needless to say, the movie never shows David as a true songwriter. And aside from a scene where Ron and David gush to each other about artists who made a big impact on them (The Stooges for Ron, Vince Taylor for David), the relationship between Ron and David is mostly joyless to watch.

When Ron first met David, he promised David that he would eventually get David on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. And so, there’s a time-wasting subplot about how David and Ron try to get a meeting with a high-ranking Rolling Stone editor named John Mickelson (played by Richard Clarkin), who doesn’t wait around for them when David and Ron are very late (more than an hour) for a scheduled appointment at a hotel in New York City. Ron finds out that John will be in Los Angeles, so Ron and David make a cross-country trip to try to meet up with John again.

“Stardust” has some very dumb and pointless scenes that seem concocted just to name drop Andy Warhol and Lou Reed in the movie. While in New York City, David goes to a party, where he meets Warhol (who’s never seen in the film) and leaves the party in an angry huff because he feels like Warhol disrespected him and used David for footage in a tacky short film. What did David do in this short film? Pantomime, of course.

The “Stardust” reference to former Velvet Underground singer Reed is even sillier. While Ron and David are still in New York City, they go to a Velvet Underground show at a nightclub. The band is performing on stage, but the movie doesn’t even have any music resembling the Velvet Underground in this scene.

The scene then shows Ron and David walking on the street after the performance, with David talking excitedly about how much he admires Lou Reed and how much he enjoyed talking to Lou after the show. Ron tells David that Lou actually left the Velvet Underground a few months earlier, and the singer whom David was talking to was actually Lou’s replacement Doug Yule. David then says he doesn’t care because the guy he was talking to was interesting anyway.

During this entire movie, David keeps having flashbacks to good and bad memories of his older brother Terry. And as David does more cocaine, he becomes increasingly paranoid that he’s going to be stricken with a mental illness. In one of the flashbacks, David overhears his parents Mrs. and Mrs. Jones (played by Geoffrey McGivern and Olivia Carruthers) saying that they think Terry is a lost cause, but they’re relieved that David doesn’t seem to have the “family curse” of schizophrenia.

After David’s U.S. tour ends and he comes back to England feeling disillusioned about his stalled career, David visits a psychiatric institution where Terry has been living. David watches a group therapy session where the patients are doing “drama therapy,” which is explained as working out emotional problems by pretending to be someone else. It’s here that David has a silent “a-ha” moment and it’s where the movie basically tells the audience that this is why the real-life Bowie constantly reinvented himself with different personas.

The movie ends with David unveiling a new persona that will redefine his career: Ziggy Stardust, a red-haired alien from outer space. And he has renamed his band the Spiders From Mars. The band members, whose speaking lines are in “Stardust” for less than 10 minutes, are depicted in the movie as hating their new costumes that they’ve been given to wear on stage. And then, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars are born with their first performance.

Simply put: “Stardust” is a travesty on almost every level. Bowie was a first-rate artist. He and his legacy don’t deserve this mind-numbing trash.

IFC Films released “Stardust” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 25, 2020.

Review: ‘Antebellum,’ starring Janelle Monáe

September 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Janelle Monáe in “Antebellum” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Lionsgate)


Directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the American South, the horror film “Antebellum” has a cast of African American and white people representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: The world of a successful, modern-day African American woman is somehow linked to a Southern plantation where she and other African Americans are mistreated and abused as slaves.

Culture Audience: “Antebellum” will appeal primarily to people who might think that a horror movie about the brutality of slavery would have some insightful social commentary, but the horrific abuse in the film is mostly exploitation.

Gabourey Sidibe, Janelle Monáe and Lily Cowles in “Antebellum” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Lionsgate)

You can almost hear the gimmick pitch that got “Antebellum” made into a movie: “Let’s make a horror film that’s like ’12 Years a Slave’ meets ‘Get Out.'” Unfortunately, “Antebellum” is nowhere near the quality or merit of the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” and “Get Out,” even though QC Entertainment (one of the production companies behind “Get Out”) is a production company for “Antebellum.”

The sad reality is that “Antebellum” just seems like an exploitative cash grab to attract Black Lives Matter supporters, but the movie is really a “bait and switch,” because there’s almost no social consciousness in the movie and nothing to be learned from the story. “Antebellum” is actually a very soulless and nonsensical horror flick that uses slavery as a way to just have repetitive scenes of African Americans being sadistically beaten, strangled and raped.

Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, who have a background in directing commercials, co-wrote and co-directed “Antebellum,” which is their feature-film debut. Normally, it’s not necessary to mention the race of a filmmaker when reviewing a movie. But because “Antebellum” is about the triggering and controversial topics of racism, slavery and the exploitation of African Americans, it should be noted that Bush is African American and Renz is white.

Just because an African American co-wrote and co-directed this movie doesn’t excuse the problematic way that racist violence against African Americans is depicted in the movie. “Antebellum” has this racist violence for violence’s sake, with little regard to making any of the slaves, except for the movie’s main character, have any real substance. It’s the equivalent of a mindless slasher film that doesn’t care about having a good plot or well-rounded characters but just takes perverse pleasure in seeing how the victims get attacked, tortured and possibly killed.

The movie doesn’t waste any time showing this cruel violence, since the opening scene is of a male slave named Eli (played by Tongayi Chirisa) being separated from his love partner/wife named Amara (played by Achok Majak) by a group of plantation supervisors in Confederate military uniforms. The group is led by the evil racist Captain Jasper (played by Jack Huston), who takes pleasure in torturing Amara, who is lassoed with a rope around the neck when she tries to run away in the cotton field. You can easily guess what happens next.

People who’ve seen any “Antebellum” trailers or clips might wonder why the movie’s protagonist (played by Janelle Monáe) seems to be in two different worlds: In one world, she’s a slave on a plantation during the Civil War era. In another world, she’s a present-day, happily married mother of a young daughter.

To explain why she exists in these two worlds would be a major spoiler for the movie. But it’s enough to say that the explanation comes about halfway through the film, and it creates questions that are never really answered by the end of the movie. “Antebellum” is supposed to take place in different unnamed cities in the South. The movie was actually filmed in New Orleans.

In the plantation world, Monáe is a quietly defiant slave who is secretly planning to escape with some other slaves. She has been named Eden by the plantation’s sadistic owner who goes by the name “Him” (played by Eric Lange), who assaults her and burns her with a hot branding iron until she agrees that her name is Eden. Later, he rapes her. The real name of “Him” is revealed later in the movie.

We don’t see Eden do much plotting to escape in the movie, mainly because the slaves have been ordered not to talk to each other or else they will be punished. It’s implied that Eden is the self-appointed leader of this escape plan because another slave named Julia (played by Kiersey Clemons) arrives at the plantation and expects Eden to fill her in on the escape details.

Julia, who is pregnant, tells Eden that she heard that Eden is from Virginia. Julia says that she’s from North Carolina. Eden replies, “Wherever you came from before here, you need to forget North Carolina.” Julia says, “That’s not possible for me. What are we doing? What’s the plan?” Eden responds, “We must choose are own wisely. But until then, we must keep our heads down and our mouths shut.”

Later, when Julia becomes frustrated by what she thinks is Eden stalling or not doing anything to implement the escape plan, she angrily says to Eden: “You ain’t no leader. You’re just a talker.” And since Julia is pregnant, you can bet her pregnancy will be used as a reason to make any violence against her more heinous.

Meanwhile, Captain Jasper has an equally racist wife named Elizabeth (played by Jena Malone), who is as ice-cold as her husband is quick-tempered. It’s implied, but not said outright, that she knows he rapes the female slaves. In an early scene in the movie, Elizabeth recoils when Jasper leans in to kiss her. She sniffs, as if to smell him, and says with a slightly disgusted tone, “Hmm. You started early.”

Meanwhile, the modern-day character played by Monáe is a sociologist and best-selling author named Veronica Henley, whose specialty is in social justice issues related to race. And in this story, she’s promoting her book “Shedding the Coping Persona,” which is about marginalized people learning to be their authentic selves instead of pretending to be something they’re not to please their oppressors. Veronica is well-educated (she has a Ph. D. and is a graduate of Spelman College and Columbia University) and she’s happily married. She’s prominent enough to have debates on national TV about topics such as racism and African American empowerment.

Veronica and her husband Nick (played by Marque Richardson) have an adorable daughter who’s about 5 or 6 years old named Kennedi (played by London Boyce), who’s very inquisitive and perceptive. After the family watches a debate-styled interview that Veronica did on TV with a conservative white male pundit (whose profession is listed “eugenics expert/professor”), Kennedi asks Veronica why the man was so angry. Veronica replies, “Sometimes what looks like anger is really just fear.”

Nick is the type of doting husband and father who will make breakfast for Veronica and Kennedi. Meanwhile, Veronica confides in her sassy single friend Dawn (played by Gabourey Sidibe) that she often feels guilty about being away from home when she has to work. Dawn reassures Veronica that she’s a great wife and mother and tells Veronica not to be too hard on herself. (Dawn, who is assertive and outspoken, has some of the best and funniest lines in the movie.)

Veronica has to go out of town to attend an African American-oriented conference called VETA, where she is a guest speaker. Dawn lives in the area, so they make plans to have dinner with Dawn’s friend Sarah (played by Lily Cowles), who is also single and available. Before Veronica meets up with them, she gets a bouquet of flowers delivered to her at her hotel. The flowers have a note that says, “Look forward to your homecoming.”

Veronica assumes that the gift is from Nick. But since this is a horror movie, viewers can easily figure out that Nick did not send those flowers. Some other strange things happen in the hotel room when Veronica isn’t there. And then, something happens after that dinner that explains how the plantation world and the modern world are connected.

Monáe does an adequate job in the role that she’s been given. And the movie’s cinematography, production design and costume design are actually very good. The actors who play the racists predictably portray them as caricatures of evil. The insidiousness of a lot of racists is that they hide their hate with fake smiles and polite mannerisms to the people they hate, but there’s no such subtlety in this story, since all of the villains are revealed early on in the story.

The biggest problem with “Antebellum” is the screenplay. The ending of the movie is absolutely ludicrous and it actually makes the African Americans in the story look dumb for not taking certain actions that could have been taken earlier. Therefore, “Antebellum” isn’t as uplifting to African Americans as it likes to think it is.

The tone of the movie is also uneven, because the slavery scenes are absolutely dark and brutal. But then the scenes with Sidibe and her sitcom-ish character are very out of place and dilute the intended horror of the movie. Sidibe is very good in the role, but the Dawn character was written as too comedic for this type of movie. And huge stretches of “Antebellum” are just plain boring, with no real suspense.

However, the main ridiculousness of “Antebellum” goes back to that plantation and the secret that’s revealed at the end of the movie. If people want to see the horrors of slavery depicted in an Oscar-worthy narrative film, then watch “12 Years a Slave.” Don’t watch “Antebellum,” which uses slavery as an exploitative gimmick as the basis for this moronic and not-very-scary horror movie.

Lionsgate released “Antebellum” on VOD on September 18, 2020.

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