Review: ‘Six Minutes to Midnight,’ starring Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench

April 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench in “Six Minutes to Midnight” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Six Minutes to Midnight”

Directed by Andy Goddard

Culture Representation: Taking place in England in 1939, the spy drama “Six Minutes to Midnight” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and various government officials.

Culture Clash: On the brink of World War II, a German British spy poses as an English teacher at a boarding school in England for daughters of powerful German Nazis.

Culture Audience: “Six Minutes to Midnight” will appeal primarily to people interested in stories about spies who target Nazis, but the movie ineptly bungles what are supposed to be the most suspenseful parts of the story.

Carla Juri and Judi Dench in “Six Minutes to Midnight” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench star in a movie about a spy who infiltrates a boarding school for Nazi teenage girls. What could possibly go wrong? In the case of the woefully misguided “Six Minutes to Midnight”—everything. The story’s “mystery villain” is revealed about halfway through the film, and the rest of the story consists of far-fetched chase scenes and shootouts.

The only realistic thing about “Six Minutes to Midnight” is that the story was inspired by the real-life Augusta-Victoria College, a prestigious independent boarding school for mostly teenage girls in the coastal town of Bexhill-on-Seas, England, which is Izzard’s hometown. Augusta-Victoria College existed from 1932 to 1939, and it enrolled German female students ranging in ages from 16 to 21. It was a school intended to foster good will between British and German cultures. The school’s students weren’t just any students though: They were the daughters of high-ranking Nazis.

According to the “Six Minutes to Midnight” production notes, Izzard was so intrigued by the history of Augusta-Victoria College, it inspired Izzard to want to do a movie about it. Andrew Goddard directed “Six Minutes to Midnight” from a screenplay that he wrote with Izzard and Celyn Jones. Izzard is also one of the producers of “Six Minutes to Midnight,” which comes across as a bit of a vanity project where Izzard wants to be a spy character who’s an action star, without the suave flair and dazzling stunts of James Bond.

Fair enough, but it’s unfortunate that Izzard was a major creator for this clumsily constructed movie. “Six Minutes to Midnight” also shamefully glosses over the horrors of Nazi evil and is instead more concerned with whether or not Augusta-Victoria College’s lonely spinster headmistress will be separated from her students, as war appears inevitable between Great Britain and Nazi Germany. By the end of the movie, viewers will learn almost next to nothing about Izzard’s Thomas Miller character, except that he sure likes to use the beach a lot as a hiding place.

“Six Minutes to Midnight,” which takes place over a period of less than a month, begins on August 15, 1939, in Bexhill-on-Sea. A middle-aged man who goes by the name of Wheatley (played by Nigel Lindsay) is in a classroom, as he frantically looks for something that’s in a hidden space behind one of the room’s book shelves. He takes out a small box and is visibly upset when he finds out that what he’s looking for isn’t there.

Viewers find out a short time later that this classroom is at Augusta-Victoria College, which is sprawled out on a large property near the beach. As a distraught Wheatley quickly rides off on a bicycle, he is being watched through an upper-room window by the school’s headmistress/principal Miss Rocholl (played by Dench), who’s got that hard-nosed “Don’t try to mess with me” look that Dench has for most of the characters she tends to play. Wheatley goes to a phone booth, where he makes a panicky phone call to an unidentified man.

“It’s missing!” Wheatley shouts. “Don’t you understand? They’ve taken it!” The man on the other line can be heard saying something about duty. Wheatley responds, “They know they’re being watched! I can’t go back!”

So now that it’s been established that Wheatley has been caught spying on Augusta-Victoria College, it’s kind of a no-brainer to figure out who sent him there. The person on the other line was guilt-tripping Wheatley about “duty.” And that just screams “service to the government.”

The fact that Wheatley is a government spy isn’t the mystery. The mystery is what happened to Wheatley, who is shown sitting at a table on a pier’s wooden deck after making his upsetting phone call. And then, the next thing you know, all that’s seen is that Wheatley is missing from the deck and his bowler hat is flying off in the wind. Did he disappear? Is he dead? Did he give his two weeks’ notice? Does anyone care?

Izzard’s Thomas Miller character comes into the picture soon afterward, when he interviews at Augusta-Victoria College, as a replacement for Wheatley. The school found Wheatley and Thomas through the same employment agency. Thomas is greeted in a friendly and upbeat manner by schoolteacher Ilse Keller (played by Carla Juri), who is Miss Rocholl’s trusted right-hand person.

What’s somewhat laughable about this badly made film is that even though there are only 20 students currently at this school, Ilse and Miss Rocholl are the only faculty members seen at Augusta-Victoria College. Where are the other employees? There isn’t even a janitor or caretaker in sight for this sizeable property.

Augusta-Victoria College is portrayed in the movie as a high-level finishing school for girls (they practice things such as poise and balance by walking with books on their heads), but there no servants shown on the premises of this boarding school. After all, how can these Hitler youth practice a bigoted Nazi sense of superiority without “lowly” staffers to boss around? The main indication that the students are in a cult-like environment is when Ilse frequently takes the students to the nearby beach, where the students stand in military-like formations and move when she commands them to, like good little Stepford Nazis.

Thomas predictably gets hired at the school, so he’s technically the third faculty member shown in the movie. However, he doesn’t become a permanent staffer, because Miss Rocholl tells Thomas when she hires him that she wants to test him out on a trial basis first. In other words, he’s a temporary employee. This job interview takes place on August 21, 1939, which is six days after Wheatley has disappeared. By the time that the end of the story happens on September 3, 1939, Thomas will be long gone from his employment at Augusta-Victoria College.

In his job interview with Miss Rocholl, she is stern and judgmental. She asks Thomas about his personal life and finds out that he’s a bachelor with no children . When she asks him, “What sort of Englishman would accept a post teaching Herr Hitler’s legal German girls?” Thomas tells her that his father is German. And it’s convenient that he’s bilingual because Thomas has been hired as the school’s English teacher.

Miss Rocholl admits to Thomas that the school needed to hire someone on short notice because Thomas’ predecessor turned out to be “unreliable.” She adds, “My girls need order. Next week, we present them to the Anglo-German fellowship.” Thomas doesn’t bother to ask her what happened to his predecessor, because he already knows that Wheatley has disappeared. Thomas and the rest of the school will eventually find out what happened to Wheatley.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” has some filler and predictable scenes that always seem to be in movies where one of the main locations is a school for teenagers. There’s the stereotypical “mean girl”/queen bee student, whose name is Astrid (played Maria Dragus). And there’s the socially awkward outcast student, whose name is Gretel (played by Tijan Marei). The rest of the students are written with indistinguishable personalities. And most of the students do not have any speaking lines in the movie.

Astrid and Gretel are written as such extreme opposites that their characters are almost caricatures. Astrid is the outgoing popular student who excels in athletics and academics. Gretel is the shy misfit who’s smart but she doesn’t know how to swim, which is the main physical sport that the students have at the school. Gretel often spends time by herself while the other students participate in athletic and social activities.

Astrid is the type of person who will smile in someone’s face and then make insulting remarks behind that person’s back. That’s what she does to Thomas on his first day on the job at Augusta-Victoria College. Astrid is the first student to welcome him in the class, but later on, Thomas overhears Astrid telling another student with a smirk that Thomas wouldn’t be considered “man enough” for the Fuhrer, in other words, Adolf Hitler.

Meanwhile, Thomas establishes a bit of a rapport with bashful and sensitive Gretel, because he can relate to feeling like an outsider in this stuffy and elitist environment. He notices that Gretel is frequently shunned by her classmates, so he occasionally gives her little pep talks. But Thomas’ interactions with the students are not shown very much because he’s got an ulterior motive for being at this school. It isn’t long before Thomas is snooping around because he was sent to Augusta-Victoria College to find out what happened to Wheatley.

The movie makes subtle and not-so-subtle references to Augusta-Victoria College being a school that taught Nazi propaganda. Thomas finds an Augusta-Victoria College school crest embroidered on a patch, which has a lion flanked by the United Kingdom flag on one side and a Nazi swastika on the other. (This movie uses the real-life Augusta-Victoria College crest.)

One day, Thomas walks by a classroom and sees Miss Rocholl and the students listening to a Hitler speech on the radio. To his surprise, Miss Rocholl joins the students in a Nazi salute while they chant “Sieg Heil!” At that moment, Miss Rocholl and Thomas make eye contact, and she can sense his disgust.

Later, in a private meeting between Miss Rocholl and Thomas, she tries to justify her apparent allegiance to the Nazis. Miss Rocholl has this to say about joining in on the “Sieg Heil” chant: “It means ‘Hail Victory.’ That’s all … Why should we criticize a country that strives to be great?”

Miss Rocholl then tries to appeal to Thomas’ empathetic side by telling him: “These girls are my life. They give me hope. And that’s why I join in when they say, ‘Hail Victory.'” In another part of the story, Miss Rocholl also says to Thomas that she wants to keep the girls as sheltered as possible from the outside world. Can you say “Nazi brainwashing school?”

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Augusta-Victoria College is a training ground for Hitler’s Nazi youth, there’s another scene where Thomas (who lurks quite a bit in the school hallways) walks by a classroom and sees Ilse pivoting a discussion with the students into an anti-Semitic lecture. Ilse starts off talking about how it’s hard to tell from appearances if someone is good or evil. Then she asks the students for examples of how to spot the differences between animals of the same species. And then she turns it into a discussion about how to find out the differences between Jews and Gentiles. The movie stops short of showing her going into details about how to identify Jewish people.

And what about Thomas’ spy mission? There are the predictable scenes of him hiding in places to eavesdrop on conversations. And don’t forget the formulaic scene of Thomas rifling through desk drawers and secretly photographing certain documents with a miniature camera that’s the same size as a modern-day flash drive.

The title of “Six Minutes to Midnight” comes from Thomas using the code 1154 (as in, 11:54 p.m.) to identify himself when he calls into spy headquarters. Technically, if he were using government time codes to signify “six minutes to midnight.” he should have used the digits 2354. But that’s the least of this movie’s problems with logic.

There’s also a fairly ludicrous scene of Thomas having a tension-filled meeting with his supervisor Colonel Smith (played David Schofield) at, of all places, a live comedy show. Let’s see: You’re an undercover spy who’s supposed to be having a secret conversation with your boss about a clandestine mission. And you think the best place to have this confidential conversation is in the audience of a show where you have to raise your voice in order to be heard because someone’s performing on stage while you’re talking. And you’re surrounded by people who could hear what you’re talking about in a theater that’s fairly dark, so you don’t really know who could be eavesdropping. Somewhere, James Bond is laughing at this spy sloppiness.

The very talented Jim Broadbent is in the cast of “Six Minutes to Midnight,” but he’s barely in the movie. His scenes last for less than 10 minutes, thereby squandering Broadbent’s talent. It’s another reason why “Six Minutes to Midnight” is foolish and annoying. Broadbent portrays a friendly man named Charlie, the owner of a private bus service called Charlie Bus Hire. It’s a small business that seems to have only one bus, and Charlie is the driver.

Thomas and Charlie cross paths a few times in the movie when Thomas needs a bus ride to wherever he needs to go. The government didn’t provide a car for Thomas while he was undercover for this assignment, presumably to make his teacher impersonation more believable. A low-paid teacher wasn’t supposed to be able to afford a car in those days.

Charlie is the type of small role that should have gone to a lesser renowned actor. An actor of Broadbent’s caliber should have been showcased more in this movie. It’s disappointing to see Broadbent, who is capable of better and more substantial work, in such a poorly written role that reduces him to some wisecracking jokes that don’t land well at all.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” really falls off the rails when Thomas goes on the run after being accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One of the characters ends up getting shot in front of Thomas one rainy night. Viewers get to see who the shooter is, but Thomas doesn’t see the killer because it was raining so hard and he was in a car when it happened.

After the murder, the shooter ran away and dropped the gun, with the intent to frame Thomas for the murder. And sure enough, Thomas ran out of the car and picked up the gun, right at the same moment that a police officer arrived to see Thomas with blood on his clothes and holding the murder weapon. What a coincidence.

James D’Arcy has the role of Captain Drey, the law enforcement officer who’s in charge of investigating the murder. Captain Drey doesn’t believe Thomas’ proclamations of innocence. Thomas and Captain Drey have the expected personality clashes. And you can easily predict how this murder is going to affect Thomas’ ability to stay undercover as a spy.

Izzard seems to be trying earnestly to be an action hero, but it’s just not believable in the context of how ridiculously many of the scenes are staged. The shootout scenes lack credibility because “Six Minutes to Midnight” is one of those movies where people spend more time talking while they’re aiming their guns than actually shooting their targets. And get used to aerial shots of Izzard running away on a beach, because there’s plenty of that repetition in the movie.

As for Dench and Juri, they’ve played the same types of characters in other movies before: Dench as the no-nonsense taskmaster, Juri as the helpful assistant/sidekick. The acting from the cast members isn’t terrible, but there’s nothing extraordinary or noteworthy about it either. The character of Thomas is very hollow and uninteresting. It’s kind of mind-boggling that Izzard (one of the screenplay co-writers) couldn’t come up with a better character for this starring role.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” director/co-writer Goddard puts some effort into making the scenes try to look artistic. The big showdown at the end of the movie takes place on a beach at night. Some flare guns are used in this scene, to visually stunning results. But those are just superficial effects. The actual confrontation with weapons in this scene ends up being very dull and anti-climactic.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” has an almost flippant and dismissive attitude about the disturbing genocide and other mayhem caused by Nazis. The movie only wants to address the Nazis’ destruction in vague, abstract terms. The characters in the movie don’t really talk about why the United Kingdom is headed toward war with Nazi Germany. Instead, it becomes all about whether or not Thomas can prove his innocence in the murder case and what’s going to happen to the Augusta-Victoria College students.

This movie didn’t have to be a history lesson, but it’s very off-putting that all these characters in “Six Minutes to Midnight” who work for the British government won’t even acknowledge the suffering of the people who are the targets of Nazi hate. It might have been the filmmakers’ way of showing how people were in denial or willing to enable Nazi atrocities. But it’s a weak excuse when most of the main characters in the story are not ignorant citizens and they know exactly why Great Britain is going to war with Nazi Germany.

Simply put: “Six Minutes to Midnight” gives a much higher priority in trying to make viewers care about the comfort and well-being of Nazi youth and their British teachers than it does in trying to make viewers care about the people whose lives were destroyed by Nazis. It’s a completely tone-deaf movie that couldn’t even deliver a suspenseful mystery story. And in the end, “Six Minutes to Midnight” is a time-wasting film where the main characters don’t seem to have any emotional growth because they’re all so emotionally barren from the start.

Review: ‘Blithe Spirit’ (2021), starring Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Judi Dench

April 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Leslie Mann and Dan Stevens in “Blithe Spirit” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Blithe Spirit” (2021) 

Directed by Edward Hall

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1937 in England and briefly in Los Angeles, the comedic film “Blithe Spirit” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one black person and a few Indians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Struggling with writer’s block, a novelist-turned-screenwriter is haunted by the ghost of his dead ex-wife, who plots to break up his marriage to his current wife.

Culture Audience: “Blithe Spirit” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Noel Coward play on which the movie is based or the 1945 “Blithe Spirit” movie, but the 2021 movie version of “Blithe Spirit” is vastly inferior.

Pictured clockwise, from left to right, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Isla Fisher, Judi Dench, Dan Stevens and Emilia Fox in “Blithe Spirit” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

The 2021 version of “Blithe Spirit” is like a meal that seems to have all the right ingredients, but it turns out to be dull and unappealing mush that will leave people with a bad taste in their mouths. Even though this comedic film (based on the Noel Coward play of the same name) has terrific and talented cast members who have done much better work elsewhere, this “Blithe Spirit” movie’s screenwriting and direction fall flat on almost every level. There are some movies that are so bad that they’re entertaining, and there are some movies that are so bad that they’re boring. Unfortunately, this “Blithe Spirit” remake falls into the latter category.

People watching this version of “Blithe Spirit” might already know about the critically acclaimed 1945 movie version of “Blithe Spirit,” directed by David Lean. The 2021 version of “Blithe Spirit, ” directed by Edward Hall, lacks much of the charm of the 1945 “Blithe Spirit.” The lethargic and simple-minded screenplay of this “Blithe Spirit” remake was written by Nick Morcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth. (Morcroft and Leonard are two of the movie’s producers.)

The actors do the best that they can, but they strain for laughs that are few and far in between in this joyless story of a love triangle gone awry because of a vengeful ghost. In “Blithe Spirit,” which takes place in 1937, the love triangle consists of a writer who has a crumbling marriage to a socialite when he becomes haunted by the spirit of his dead ex-wife, who was his most important muse. The ghost of the ex-wife then causes all sorts of mischief in order for her ex-husband’s current marriage to fail.

In the “Blithe Spirit” remake, the person at the center of the love triangle is also the story’s protagonist: British writer Charles Condomine (played by Dan Stevens) is a successful crime novelist who has been hired by a major movie studio to write his first screenplay, which is based on one of his novels. Charles has been experiencing writer’s block, and he tries to hide his fear that he won’t finish the screenplay on time.

Charles’ loyal and adoring wife Ruth (played by Isla Fisher) tries to be as understanding as possible, but there’s an added layer of pressure for Charles to finish this screenplay: Ruth’s father Henry Mackintosh (played by Simon Kunz) is a high-ranking executive of the movie studio that has commissioned Charles to write the screenplay. Charles is writing a crime drama/thriller movie that the studio hopes to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock (played by Peter Rogers), a master filmmaker of suspenseful movies.

Other “celebrity cameos” in “Blithe Spirit” include appearances from Greta Garbo (played by Stella Stocker), Clark Gable (played by Jaymes Sygrove), filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (played by Colin Stinton) and notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by Georgina Rich), with none of these cameos adding much impact to the story. These cameos happen when Charles visits the famed production facility Pinewood Studios in Iver, England, and when he goes to Hollywood.

You can tell already that the “Blithe Spirit” movie remake did not stay true to the original play and movie, which had a small cast of characters and a small number of locations. The “Blithe Spirit” movie remake overstuffs the story with too many characters and jumps around in too many places. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to distract viewers with a bunch of gimmicky scenes that are new to this “Blithe Spirit” movie remake, as a smokescreen for the sad reality that this movie doesn’t have the verve of the original “Blithe Spirit.”

The vengeful ex-wife who comes back to haunt Charles is his first wife Elvira (played by Leslie Mann), who got divorced from Charles before she died in a horse-jumping competition. Elvira is supposed to be shrewish and seductive, so that when she reappears in Charles’ life, he has a hard time resisting her manipulations. In this “Blithe Spirit” remake, Elvira is American (she was British in the other versions), presumably because Mann, who is American in real life, couldn’t or wouldn’t do a British accent for the movie.

Mann has been typecast in several movies, because she usually plays a character who’s a mild-mannered suburban American mother. Mann has a sing-song tone to her speaking voice that sounds like she could be a kindergarten teacher. And so, movie audiences might find it hard to believe Mann in the role of a spiteful and homicidal ex-wife who doesn’t hesitate to plot the death of her rival Ruth.

The role of Elvira needed to be played by someone who is a more convincing femme fatale but who also has the talent to carry this role with comedic charisma. So although Mann is talented, she is miscast in this role because she doesn’t come across as the least bit dangerous throughout the movie. Stevens portrays Charles as an egotistical, insecure buffoon who won’t find much sympathy with viewers of this movie. Fisher has the most thankless role as Ruth, who’s supposed to be the “good wife,” but even Ruth’s patience gets tested by Charles’ erratic shenanigans.

At the beginning of “Blithe Spirit,” the passion has all but disappeared from Charles and Ruth’s nearly five-year marriage. (Ruth and Charles do not have children together, and neither did Charles and Elvira.) And now, Charles is stressed-out over finishing a screenplay that he has problems even starting. He doesn’t like distractions when he’s writing, so this need for isolation causes even more discontent and alienation in his marriage to Ruth.

Ruth notices Charles’ sullen mood over his writer’s block and says to him: “You’ve been commissioned to write a 90-page screenplay, not ‘War and Peace.’ I don’t see how it can be problematic to adapt a story you’ve already written.”

Ruth continues, “I’m sorry, Charles. I just don’t know how long I can go on like this, with you stuck in an imaginary world and me alone in the real one. I miss you. I miss us.” Charles replies, with a hint of guilt. “So do I.”

This “Blithe Spirit” remake tries to appeal to a modern audience by putting more sex and drugs in the story but without anything that’s too raunchy. Early on in the movie, it’s mentioned that part of the reason why Charles and Ruth’s marriage is faltering is because he has erectile dysfunction. Charles talks about it with his close friend Mr. Bradman (played by Julian Rhind-Tutt), a doctor who gives Charles some benzedrine pills that Bradman says should solve the problem. Charles is hesitant, but Bradman says he’s been taking the same pills and it’s done wonders for his energy and sex life.

And so, Charles takes benzedrine and suddenly has a burst of energy that catches Ruth off guard. He takes her on a bicycle ride in a wooded area and vigorously pedals as if he’s in contestant in a bike race. And later, Ruth is pleasantly surprised to find out that Charles is interested in reviving their sex life, and he’s a more enthusiastic lover than he was in recent months. There’s no explicit sex in the movie, but the sexual activity is either depicted in mild sex scenes or talked about in the story.

With Charles and Ruth’s marriage seemingly back on track to becoming happy again, they go on a double date with Bradman and his wife (played by Emilia Fox) to a theater stage show to see a well-known psychic named Madame Cecily Arcati (played by Judi Dench). The Bradmans don’t have first names in this version of “Blithe Spirit,” but they are called George and Violet in previous versions. Charles doesn’t really take this psychic/fortune teller show seriously and only goes out of slight amusement and curiosity.

Also in the audience are two of Charles and Ruth’s servants: maid Edith (played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and cook Edna (played by Michele Dotrice), who have the cheap seats down below, while the Condomines and the Bradfords have top-tier balcony tickets. Most of what Edith and Edna do in the movie is react to Charles’ increasingly unhinged state of mind the more that Elvira irritates him. Some of the other people who are seen in the Condomine house are the couple’s other friends who are written as vague characters who don’t have much to say and only show up when there’s a house party.

“Blithe Spirit” tries to infuse some slapstick comedy by having Madame Arcati fall from a rope during a levitating trick in front of the audience. This mishap leads to her being exposed as a fraud, which causes an uproar from audience members. Many of the people in the crowd demand refunds. It’s a rather unnecessary scene, unless you were really waiting your whole life to see a movie with a Judi Dench stunt double taking a humiliating tumble on stage.

While all this chaos is going on, Charles sneaks backstage to talk to Madame Arcati in her dressing room. He introduces himself as a crime writer and tells Madame Arcati: “Like me, you occasionally have to employ artistic license to entertain the masses.” Madame Arcati responds with a “poor me” tone of voice when she talks about her audiences: “They expect me to deliver a spectacle, a transcendental miracle, night after night.”

Madame Arcati is embarrassed over her fiasco performance, which caused her to lose money due to all the refunds. Her shame is somewhat alleviated when Charles gives her another job opportunity, albeit a temporary one. Charles asks Madame Arcati to do a private séance at his home. He tells her that he, his wife Ruth and “influential guests” will be attending the séance. Madame Arcati willingly obliges.

Charles is hoping that the séance will inspire ideas for his writing and and possibly help him get over his writer’s block. The Condomines and Bradfords don’t take the séance that seriously until some spooky things start happening. Madame Arcati says that the spirit in the room wants to contact Charles. And then, Madame Arcati convulses and the room’s French windows blow open.

Madame Arcati is visibly shaken when she leaves the house. However, the couples have a laugh over what happened. Ruth and Charles won’t be laughing when they find out that the séance has conjured up the spirit of Elvira, who doesn’t waste time in trying to wreck Charles and Ruth’s marriage. First, Elvira tries to drive Ruth crazy, and then Elvira turns to more devious methods to get Ruth out of Charles’ life.

While all of this is happening, Charles is the only one who can see Elvira’s ghost. And so, much of the contrived comedy in “Blithe Spirit” is about Charles talking to Elvira, but other people think he’s going crazy because he looks like he’s talking to himself. Another scenario that happens frequently is that Charles says something insulting to Elvira, but someone in the room thinks Charles is actually saying the insult to them. Tension and arguments then ensue.

Elvira can be maddening to Charles, but she also inspires him and gives him some of his best ideas. It should come as no surprise that Charles overcomes his writer’s block with Elvira’s help. However, Elvira wants credit for her contributions, and that leads to more conflicts between Charles and Elvira. And that’s apparently an excuse for this cringeworthy line to be in this movie, when Charles utters to Elvira: “What am I supposed to say? That I have a ghost writer?”

Charles has unresolved love/hate feelings toward Elvira, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth over whether or not he wants to save his marriage to Ruth or end it. Elvira makes it clear that she wants Charles all to herself. Does this movie really expect people to believe that Elvira’s can come fully back to life, not just as a vision that only Charles can see?

Yes, it does, because later in the story, Madame Arcati becomes the second person who can see the ghost of Elvira, and she has this declaration about Elivra’s spirit: “If the returning spirit feels welcome, it can gradually become physically substantial.” There are some catty showdowns between the main female characters in the movie, but no real suspense or compelling dialogue.

For example, this is the type of bland comment that Elvira gives when she tries to threaten Madame Arcati: “I’ll haunt you until the day I die!” For someone who’s supposed to be a great writer, Elvira can’t even say things that are very witty, due to the lackluster screenwriting for this movie.

The 1945 movie version of “Blithe Spirit” starred Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine; Constance Cummings as Ruth Condomine; Kay Hammond as Elvira Condomine; and Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati. There was a natural-looking rapport that the actors had with the dialogue that’s missing from this “Blithe Spirit” remake. Oftentimes, the actors in this “Blithe Spirit” remake give little pauses as if they’re expecting it to be filled by a laugh track. And the slapstick comedy in this remake isn’t that special.

This version of “Blithe Spirit” has unnecessary detours in the plot, including Madame Arcati going to the London Spiritual Alliance and asking national director Harry Price (played by James Fleet) for help. He refuses because she’s been suspended from the alliance because of the con job at the theater were the audience demanded refunds. The Harry Price character is an example of a new character that ends up being irrelevant to this story.

Madame Arcati is a widow who lives alone and talks to her dead husband Donald as if he were still alive. Donald is mentioned enough times that you just know that there’s a reason for it in this movie. Madame Arcati is written as a watered-down character that vacillates between being assertive and pathetic. It’s the kind of unchallenging, shallow role that Dench can do in her sleep. Viewers of this monotonous movie might also be put to sleep.

A scene that’s new to the remake is a prank that Elvira plays on Ruth, when Elvira spikes Ruth’s drink with Charles’ benzedrine during a party that the Condomines are having in their home. Ruth has no idea, of course, and she ends up getting high out of her mind, stripping to her underwear in front of the guests, and getting frisky with Charles in the bedroom during the party. There’s some ghostly voyeurism that Elvira has with Ruth and Charles, but it comes across as creepy, not hilarious.

The filmmakers of “Blithe Spirit” clearly wanted to make this a sexier version of the play and original movie, but they also wanted to keep the movie “family friendly.” And so, the result is a comedy that tries to be adult-oriented but is toned down to the point of blandness, in order for it not to be inappropriate for underage children. It’s as wishy-washy as Charles’ decision making in this love triangle.

Adding to the misfires in this version of “Blithe Spirit” is Simon Boswell’s annoying musical score that sounds like it was made for a TV sitcom, not a movie that’s supposed to take place in 1937. The reality is that “Blithe Spirit” is not the type of movie that’s going to appeal to underage kids anyway. And so, if the filmmakers wanted this “Blithe Spirit” to be sexier than previous versions, it should’ve just gone all in with some clever raunchiness and with a better-quality screenplay.

Movie audiences don’t mind remakes/reboots if these remakes/reboots bring a lot of fresh ideas while staying true to some of the basics that the original project had. Sadly for this version of “Blithe Spirit,” it wallows in stale concepts that wouldn’t even past muster in mediocre comedies made for television. It seems as if Charles Condomine’s writer’s block extended to this movie’s screenplay, which is lacking in the spark and wit that made the original “Blithe Spirit” (the play and the movie) such a treat.

IFC Films released “Blithe Spirit” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 19, 2021.

Review: ‘Artemis Fowl,’ starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by Nicola Dove/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Artemis Fowl”

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and a magical underground world, the fantasy adventure “Artemis Fowl” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black and Asian) who portray humans, fairies, dwarves and goblins.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl , who must save his kidnapped father from an evil fairy, kidnaps a good fairy as bait for the ransom, setting off a battle between fairies and humans.

Culture Audience: “Artemis Fowl” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Artemis Fowl” book series who won’t mind watching a movie adaptation that is inferior to the books’ storytelling.

Judi Dench in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

The “Harry Potter” books and films have set the bar pretty high for what can be achieved in making young-adult fantasy novels into movies. By comparison, “Artemis Fowl” is a mediocre mess of a film that clearly spent a lot of time on visual effects but not enough time in doing justice to the kind of storytelling that author Eoin Colfer has in his “Artemis Fowl” books. Almost everything that happens in the “Artemis Fowl” movie can be predicted by people in their sleep.

The long-delayed “Artemis Fowl” movie was supposed to be released in theaters, but instead was released directly to the Disney+ streaming service, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who’s hit-and-miss artistically when it comes to his big-budget films), “Artemis Fowl” isn’t the worst fantasy film that someone can ever see, but it’s a disappointing movie, considering the level of talent involved. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl wrote the clunky “Artemis Fowl” screenplay, which is supposed to be an origin story, but the movie is highly unlikely to get a sequel.

The story takes place in Ireland, in an alternate modern reality where humans live above ground, while fairies and other creatures live in a below-ground place called Haven City. The movie begins with the news media in a frenzy because several priceless artifacts from around the world have been stolen. The chief suspect is a reclusive businessman/art dealer named Artemis Fowl Sr. (played by Colin Farrell), who lives in a mansion called Fowl Manor and who has mysteriously disappeared.

However, a suspected accomplice has been arrested: an oversized, thieving dwarf named Mulch Diggums (played by Josh Gad), who’s self-conscious over the fact that he’s much taller and bigger than the average dwarf. Mulch is taken to the MI6 Red Fort Interrogation Unit in Thames Estuary, London, where he begins to tell the story of Artemis Fowl Jr. (played by Ferdia Shaw), a precocious 12-year-old loner who’s frequently left to his own devices because his father goes away for long periods of time on secretive trips.

The Artemis Fowl father and son have a close relationship, but Artemis Jr. feels hurt and left out that his father won’t tell him where he’s going on these trips and exactly when he’ll be back. (Artemis Jr.’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.) Artemis Jr. has a friend/mentor/bodyguard named Domovoi Butler (played by Nonzo Anozie), who tells people that he hates to be called a butler. Domovoi has a relationship with Artemis Jr. that’s similar to the “Batman” story relationship between Alfred the butler and Bruce Wayne/Batman.

As Mulch tells it, Artemis Jr. doesn’t like school very much. He’s considered “different” and has found it difficult to make friends. There’s somewhat of an unnecessary scene where Artemis Jr. is talking to a school counselor, and then Artemis storms out because he thinks the counselor doesn’t understand him and the session is a waste of time.

Considering that Artemis Jr. spends the rest of the movie fighting battles like an adult, going to school isn’t a priority to him. It also didn’t make sense to show him at school in this movie because a kid like Artemis Fowl would probably be homeschooled, considering his father’s secretive and reclusive life. Why bother with nosy teachers and students?

At any rate, Artemis Jr. soon gets a phone call from the evil fairy who’s kidnapped his father. Let that sink in for a few seconds and try not to laugh at how dumb that plot sounds. We’ll have to assume they have caller ID blocking in Haven City.

The evil fairy tells Artemis Jr. that his father will be killed unless the fairy (an unnamed androgynous creature who’s in disguise with the creature’s face obscured) gets the ransom: a magical object called the Aculos, which has the power to open portals across the universe. The evil fairy tells Artemis Sr. that he’s been kidnapped as revenge for causing the deaths of some other fairies.

Artemis Jr. then comes up with a somewhat convoluted plan to get the good fairies of Haven City to help him find the Aculos. How? By kidnapping a fairy named Holly Short (played  by Lara McDonnell), an enforcement officer who’s supposed to be 84 years old in fairy years, but she looks close to the age of Artemis Jr. (All of the fairies are human-sized.)

The good fairies, led by gravel-voiced Commander Root (played by Judi Dench, in yet another no-nonsense, unsmiling role), then descend upon Fowl Manor to rescue Holly. The fairies have the magical power of creating a force field around a certain area, where everyone in the force field can be temporarily frozen and have their memories erased.

This power is demonstrated in a scene where a giant troll crashes a wedding reception in Italy and attempts to kidnap a child and the good fairies come to the rescue. It’s an example of how this unfocused movie literally jumps all over the place.

But apparently, having magical powers isn’t enough for the fairies, because they also have a massive technology center at Haven City, complete with huge video monitors and computers. How very Earth-like. Except it’s not, because their chief technology officer is a fairy centaur named Foaly (played by Nikesh Patel).

And who else has teamed up with Artemis Jr. and Domovoi to help them fight off this large army of fairies? Domovoi’s 12-year-old niece Juliet Butler (played by Tamara Smart), who’s got martial-arts combat skills. The three allies are outnumbered, but they have some tech gadgets and guns for their battles—although the guns don’t seem to actually kill anyone, because Disney can’t have a movie with 12-year-old kids on a murder spree.

Mulch’s narration comes and goes in the story, which includes a scene of Mulch in a prison cell full of goblins who are hostile to him. It’s an example of a poorly written scene that seems to have no purpose other than to show Mulch in an uncomfortable situation and the visual effects of when he uses his magical ability to over-expand his mouth.

All of the actors do a serviceable job in their roles, although McDonnell frequently outshines her co-stars in her scenes. There are a few lines that might give people a chuckle, such as when a gruff Commander Root barks to subordinates, “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!” The way she slightly pauses before she says “four-leaf clover” makes it clear she could have said another “f” word, and then it would definitely not be a Disney movie,

The visual effects and production design of “Artemis Fowl” are good-enough, but they won’t be nominated for any major awards. Because there is so little character development in the movie, the action scenes are really what bring the most appeal to the film. Kids under the age of 10 might enjoy “Artemis Fowl,” but people with more discerning taste in fantasy films won’t find “Artemis Fowl” very impressive. “Artemis Fowl” might just make people want to watch an old “Harry Potter” movie instead.

Disney+ premiered “Artemis Fowl” on June 12, 2020.

Harvey Weinstein scandal: Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and more celebrities speak out against sexual harassment

October 10, 2017

by Colleen McGregor

Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Company party in celebration of “Wind River” at Nikki Beach in Cannes, Frances, on May 20, 2017. (Photo by Dave Benett)

Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Mira Sorvino and Judi Dench—five actresses who have won Oscars for their roles in movies distributed by Harvey Weinstein-founded The Weinstein Company (TWC)  and Miramax Films—have joined the growing list of celebrities who are speaking out against the sexual harassment and sexual assault that TWC co-founder Weinstein is accused of committing for more than 30 years.

Streep has publicly praised Weinstein over the years, but on October 9, 2017, she issued a statement saying, in part: “The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported. The intrepid women who raised their voices to expose this abuse are our heroes.  One thing can be clarified. Not everybody knew … Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.” Other stars—such as Glenn Close, Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow and Mark Ruffalo—have also made public statements condemning Weinstein. (Click here to read many of their statements.)

On October 7, 2017, Weinstein issued an apology that read, in part: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” He also said he was in therapy for his admitted anger issues and “demons.” Through his representatives, Weinstein has denied the most serious allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

Weinstein was fired from TWC on October 8, 2017—three days after a New York Times article gave detailed accounts of these accusations, which included allegations made by actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan that Weinstein sexually harassed them in the 1990s. The New York Times investigation reported that over the past several years, Weinstein had least eight sexual-harassment cases against him that were settled out of court; the most recently known case was in 2015.

Allegations published by the New York Times and the New Yorker on October 10, 2017,  give first-hand accounts by numerous women with various jobs in the entertainment industry (including assistants, producers, executives and actresses) who talk about being the targets of sexual misconduct by Weinstein. Angelina Jolie, Paltrow, Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette are among the other actresses who claim that they have been sexually harassed by Weinstein early in the actresses’ careers. Meanwhile, actress/filmmaker Asia Argento told the New Yorker that Weinstein raped her in 1997, and she felt pressured to have other sexual encounters with him over the next five years.

According to the reports, Weinstein’s main tactic would be to lure a woman to be alone with him in a hotel room or other private area, with Weinstein leading the woman to believe that it was a business meeting to help her career. The allegations often included salacious details such as Weinstein getting naked and asking the woman he was alone with to give him a nude massage, watch him take a shower and/or have sex with him. In some cases, Weinstein would allegedly masturbate in front of the woman or force the woman to touch his penis.

Lucia Evans, a former aspiring actress, told the New Yorker of a disturbing encounter with Weinstein in which she claims he forced her to perform oral sex on him during what she thought would be a business meeting with him in 2004.

Weinstein, who is 65, has been married to fashion mogul Georgina Chapman (co-founder of the Marchesa brand) since 2007, but she announced on October 10, 2017, that they have separated. Weinstein was married to his first wife, Eve Chilton, from 1987 to 2004. His has three daughters with Chilton: Remy (previously Lily), born  in 1995; Emma, born 1998; and Ruth, born in 2002. Weinstein has two children with Chapman: daughter India Pearl (born in 2010) and son Dashiell (born in 2013).

In 2015, Weinstein was investigated by the New York Police Department for groping actress Ambra Battilana Gutierrez during a private business meeting at TWC headquarters in New York City, but the Manhattan District Attorney declined to file charges. On October 10, 2017, New Yorker released a NYPD sting audio tape made at a hotel a few days after the incident that has Weinstein admitting to groping her breast and trying to convince Gutierrez to come into his hotel room.

Weinstein was a major donor to several progressive causes and Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Since the scandal broke, Obama and Clinton have issued statements condemning Weinstein. Some of the politicians, such as Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, have stated that they would take the amount of money that Weinstein donated to them and give it to charitable causes.

Over the years, Weinstein  earned a reputation for being a vengeful bully to many people in the industry, but he earned just as much praise and admiration from those who benefited from his help. He was considered one of the movie industry’s most powerful campaigners for prestigious awards. TWC’s Oscar-winning movies include “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.” Streep won an Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in TWC’s “The Iron Lady,” while Winslet won an Oscar for TWC’s “The Reader.” Among the other celebrities who have won Oscars for TWC films include Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”),  Penélope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”), Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) and Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”).

Weinstein co-founded TWC in 2005 with his brother Bob Weinstein. The Weinstein brothers co-founded Miramax Films in 1979, and headed the company until 2005. Miramax, which was bought by Disney in 1993, is the movie studio behind such Oscar-winning films as “Shakespeare in Love” and “Chicago.” Paltrow and Dench won Oscars for “Shakespeare in Love,” while Sorvino won an Oscar for Miramax’s “Mighty Aphrodite.”

In recent years, TWC’s power has been waning. The company, which also has departments for television and books, has not had a big movie hit since 2012’s “Django Unchained.” And although 2016’s “Lion” received six Oscar nominations, the movie did not win any Oscars.