Review: ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ starring Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp and Matt Damon

February 23, 2024

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Margaret Qualley in “Drive-Away Dolls” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Working Title/Focus Features)

“Drive-Away Dolls”

Directed by Ethan Coen

Culture Representation: Taking place in December 1999, in various states on the East Coast of the United States, the comedy film “Drive-Away Dolls” features a predominantly white cast characters (with some Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two lesbian best friends go on a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida, and find out that they are being chased by criminals who want some things that are in the two friends’ rental car. 

Culture Audience: “Drive-Away Dolls” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, filmmaker Ethan Coen and comedies about road trips or lesbians.

Colman Domingo, C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick in “Drive-Away Dolls” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Working Title/Focus Features)

Neither terrible nor great, “Drive-Away Dolls” can have some appeal to viewers who are open to raunchy road-trip comedies that have lesbians as the central characters. The wacky tone is off-kilter, but the dialogue and characters are snappy and memorable. The “Drive-Away Dolls” filmmakers have said that it’s intended to be a B-movie (in other words, kind of trashy and kind of goofy), so people won’t have any expectations that “Drive-Away Dolls” is aspiring to be award-winning art.

Directed by Ethan Coen, “Drive-Away Dolls” is his first movie as a solo director since he ended his filmmaking partnership with his older brother Joel Coen. Together, the Coen Brothers’ specialty was making often-violent movies about offbeat characters, with their most-lauded achievement being the 2007 Oscar-winning drama “No Country for Old Men.” Other well-known movies in the Coen Brothers’ filmography include 1996’s crime drama “Fargo,” 1998’s stoner comedy “The Big Lebowski,” 2000’s prisoner escapee thriller “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” and the 2010 remake of the Western “True Grit.”

“Drive-Away Dolls” isn’t nearly as good as the above-named films, but it does have some quirky charm. (The word “quirky” is an over-used description for a Coen movie simply because it describes so many Coen movies.) The trick is how in how much quirkiness can be put into a movie before it becomes very irritating. “Drive-Away Dolls” comes dangerously close to being a constant barrage of quirkiness for the sake of trying to look unconventional. However, the movie takes a turn toward the end that is very conventional, so don’t expect any major plot twists.

Ethan Coen and his wife Tricia Cooke co-wrote the “Drive-Away Dolls” screenplay and are two of the movie’s producers. Cooke identifies as openly queer (as she says in the movie’s production notes), but the movie sometimes looks like it’s treating its lesbian characters (who are all young, under the age of 30) as caricatures. How would “Drive-Away Dolls” be if it had been written by young lesbians instead of a middle-aged husband and wife? We’ll never know, but some of the scenes with sexual activities just seem to be in the movie in a self-conscious way, as if to say: “Look at how progressive we are with these lesbian scenes.”

The racy sexual content can’t quite cover up the obvious: “Drive-Away Dolls” is essentially using the same formula that many road-trip movies have with two people as the central characters: The two people, who usually have opposite personalities, bicker with each other and bond with each other, as they face various obstacles on the way to their destination. If there’s a possibility of romance between the two people, one of the people in this relationship denies or resists the attraction.

In “Drive-Away Dolls,” the two argumentative travel partners are lesbian best friends in Philadelphia—brash and horny Jamie Dobbs (played by Margaret Qualley) and uptight and prudish Marian Pulabi (played by Geraldine Viswanathan)—who go on a road trip together to visit Marian’s aunt in Tallahassee, Florida. Jamie wasn’t officially invited by this aunt, but Jamie persuaded Marian to let Jamie go on this trip. Marian tries to dissuade Jamie from going by saying the visit will probably be boring because Marian’s aunt is a birder who is very conservative. Viewers soon learn that once Jamie has put her mind to getting something, she goes after it with gusto.

Jamie is what some people might call a “sexual free spirit” and what other people might call “promiscuous.” It’s the reason why Jamie’s most recent heartbroken girlfriend Suzanne “Sukie” Singelman, a Philadelphia police officer, has broken up with live-in lover Jamie, who admittedly has a hard time with being monogamous. Early on in the movie is a sex scene between Jamie and a woman named Carla (played by Annie Gonzalez) that has partial nudity but leaves very little doubt about what’s going on in the bed.

Jamie is so well-known at a local lesbian nightclub called Sugar’n’Spice, there’s a scene where she gets in front of a cheering audience to show off some souvenirs of her sexual exploits. Also in the crowd are Marian and Carla, who mildly scolds Marian for being at the club in a business suit. Marian’s excuse is that she just came from her office job and she’s not interested in “peddling her wares” at this pickup joint. Meanwhile, Sukie is so incensed at Jamie’s bragging antics on stage, Sukie storms up to Jamie and punches her.

Sukie has ordered Jamie to move out of the apartment. When Jamie arrives with Marian to pick up Jamie’s belongings, Sukie is trying to unfasten the bolts of a dildo that has been bolted to the lower half of a wall. This sex toy was a gift from Jamie, but Sukie angrily says that she doesn’t want it anymore. It’s intended to be a funny scene in “Drive-Away Dolls,” but if this type of thing doesn’t make you laugh, then “Drive-Away Dolls” is not the movie for you.

Sukie and Jamie also have a pet Chihuahua named Alice that Sukie doesn’t like, but Jamie is reluctant to take the dog because Jamie knows how irresponsible Jamie is. This dog isn’t used for a comedy gimmick as much as you might think it could be. Feeling some break-up blues, Jamie convinces Marian to let Jamie go on this road trip with Marian to Tallahassee.

The very first scene of “Drive-Away Dolls” shows something that is the catalyst for the danger that Jamie and Marian encounter on this trip. A man calling himself Santos (played by Pedro Pascal), but who is listed in the movie’s end credits as The Collector, is sitting by himself at a darkly lit Italian restaurant called Cicero’s and is waiting nervously for someone who doesn’t show up. Santos is clutching a silver metal briefcase. As he leaves the restaurant, he finds out too late that his waiter (played by Gordon MacDonald) was really an assassin, who followed Santos into an alley and killed him in a very gruesome way.

What happened to Santos’ body and the briefcase? And what’s in that briefcase? Those questions are answered in the movie. It’s enough to say that Marian and Jamie go to a car rental place owned by a shifty-looking man named Curlie (played by Bill Camp), who hears that two women are going to Tallahassee. Curlie knows exactly what car he’s going to give them: an aquamarine blue Dodge Aries.

Not long after Marian and Jamie drive off, three criminals show up expecting to rent this Dodge Aries, and “Tallahassee” was their code word to get the car. There are certain things in the car’s trunk that these thugs want. After Curlie tells them all he knows about the travelers who rented the car, Curlie gets savagely assaulted for the mistake of renting the car to these unsuspecting women.

The three criminals who are on the hunt for Jamie and Marian are a cold and calculating killer called The Chief (played by Colman Domingo), an impatient hothead named Flint (played by C.J. Wilson) and a dorky henchman named Arliss (played by Joey Slotnick), who all work for a mysterious client who is later revealed in the movie. The Chief, Flint and Arliss start their chase by going to the apartment of Sukie, who was listed as the emergency contact person for Jamie and Marian’s car rental.

“Drive-Away Dolls” stretches out the “opposites attract” schtick between Marian and Jamie for as far as it can go. Marian is horrified when Jamie immediately defaces the car with this graffiti message on the trunk: “Love is a sleigh ride to hell.” Jamie is horrified when Marian admits that she’s been celibate for three years, ever since Marian’s breakup from her ex-girlfriend Donna. During their road trip, Jamie wants to have fun at lesbian bars and pick up sex partners, while Marian would rather sit in bed at night and read a book. The movie makes a big deal out of the fact that Marian is reading Henry James’ “The Europeans” during this trip.

“Drive-Away Dolls” also has psychedelic-looking interludes that feature brief, uncredited appearances by Miley Cyrus as a hippie woman from the 1960s. Her character’s name is later revealed in the movie. The name has a connection to a famous real-life 1960s groupie who died in 2022. If you watch all of the movie’s end credits, you’ll see at the very end, “Drive-Away Dolls” has a caption that shows the movie is dedicated to this real-life groupie.

Fans of Pascal and Matt Damon (who plays a politically conservative U.S. senator from Florida named Gary Channel) should know that the screen time for Pascal and Damon in “Drive-Away Dolls” is limited to less than 10 minutes each, even though Pascal and Damon share top billing in the movie. It’s a “bait and switch” that will turn off some viewers who might be fooled into thinking that Pascal and Damon have a lot of screen time in the movie.

“Drive-Away Dolls” has fun with being campy, but some scenes are kind of useless. For example, Jamie and Marian encounter a traveling all-female soccer team whose members look like they’re in their late teens. Jamie and Marian end up in a hotel room with the team and their young coach, while they all take turns making out with each other.

Everyone on the soccer team is queer? Really? It looks so unrealistic and gratutitous, just for the sake of having a scene showing young women making out with each other in the same room. And what happened to Marian being so uptight? (She’s not drunk in this scene, so intoxication isn’t an excuse.) This is the type of scene that could have been edited out of the movie, and it would have made no difference to the overall story.

Qualley’s acting in “Drive-Away Dolls” looks like she’s trying to mimic the blunt-talking, verbose style of Mattie Ross, the precocious teen character played by Hailee Steinfeld in 2010’s “True Grit.” There’s a clipped, galloping pace to the way they talk that is not unlike the pace of a Kentucky Derby race horse and comes complete with a Southern drawl. Jamie is originally from Texas, but her thick Southern accent (which doesn’t sound completely convincing in Qualley’s performance) and Jamie’s personal history with the South aren’t fully explained, considering that the movie makes insulting comments about Florida.

Qualley looks like she’s trying too hard to be funny as Jamie, while Viswanathan has a more naturalistic (and better) comedic style as Marian, who can say more with a few cynical eye rolls than Jamie can say with any of her motormouth rambling. Jamie’s dialogue can be hilarious at times, but it’s very stagy, much like a lot of the comedy in “Drive-Away Dolls.” All the movie’s supporting characters are not developed enough to have full personalities. Just like a slightly rusty car, “Drive-Away Dolls” is a comedy that spurts and lurches and takes a while to rev up, but it eventually can take you on a path that goes where it’s expected to go.

Focus Features released “Drive-Away Dolls” in U.S. cinemas on February 23, 2024.

Review: ‘I.S.S.,’ starring Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr., Masha Mashkova, Costa Ronin and Pilou Asbæk

January 21, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ariana DeBose in “I.S.S.” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“I.S.S.”

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in outer space, the sci-fi drama film “I.S.S.” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one multiracial person) portraying astronauts from the United States and Russia.

Culture Clash: While on the International Space Station in outer space, three American astronauts and three Russian astronauts find out that an apocalyptic war is happening on Earth between the United States and Russia. 

Culture Audience: “I.S.S.” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ariana DeBose and sci-fi thrillers about astronauts dealing with a crisis in outer space.

Masha Mashkova, John Gallagher Jr. and Costa Ronin in “I.S.S.” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

With a low budget and a simple concept, “I.S.S.” has no aspirations to be a classic sci-fi thriller. After a slow start, “I.S.S.” gets more interesting when it’s about personal and national loyalty dilemmas among Russian and American astronauts stuck on a ship in outer space during an unexpected war between their respective nations. Because this is a science-fiction movie, some suspension of disbelief is required. There’s enough tension to keep viewers interested in seeing what will happen next, although the movie could have had a much stronger ending.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and written by Nick Shafir, “I.S.S.” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival. “I.S.S.” is the feature-film debut for screenwriter Shafir, whose approach to this subject matter is very easy to understand but might be too trite for some viewers. The movie’s entire story takes place in outer space but was actually filmed in North Carolina. The year that the story takes place is not mentioned.

The title “I.S.S.” is an acronym for International Space Station. As explained in captions during the movie’s introduction: “The International Space Station (ISS) served as a symbol of the United States and Russian collaboration after the Cold War. The ISS is primarily used as a research facility, where the crew makes advancements in medicine, technology and space exploration. Today, both American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts are living on board the ISS.”

There are only six people in the movie’s entire cast of characters, who are evenly split among Americans and Russians. The Americans are commander Gordon Barrett (played by Chris Messina), emotionally reserved Kira Foster (played by Ariana DeBose) and talkative Christian Campbell (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who is a divorced father with two underage daughters. The Russians are efficient Alexey Pulov (played by Pilou Asbæk), his emotionally aloof brother Nicholai Pulov (played by Costa Ronin) and fun-loving Weronika Vetrov (played by Masha Mashkova), who sometimes goes by the nickname Nika.

Here’s where some suspension of disbelief is necessary for this movie: The first thing that some viewers might ask themselves is: “Why would Russia and the United States only have three astronauts each for such an important ISS mission?” The answer: “Because ‘I.S.S.’ is a low-budget movie.” The movie depicts all six of these space travelers as being confined to a certain part of the station, which is intended to make the movie’s interior settings look claustrophobic.

Kira is the story’s main protagonist. Kira and Alexey are both biological engineers working on a “top secret” project for their respective countries. They both share a workspace. Kira uses mice for her lab experiments. Observant viewers will notice how these mice are parallel symbols of what eventually happens to the humans in the story.

Near the beginning of the movie, Kira and Christian are by themselves, until the other four space travelers join them. Gordon introduces Alexey, Nicholai and Weronika to his colleagues. Everyone is friendly and in good spirits. The Russians begin playing the Scorpions’ 1990 hit song “Wind of Change” and begin singing along.

Alexey mentions how much an anthem the song is for Russians who were affected by the Cold War ending. However, all six of the space travelers agree that ISS is not the place where they want to talk about politics. All of this camaraderie and good cheer do not last when these ISS explorers find out something terrible: While looking down on Earth, they see large glowing spots, indicating that nuclear weapons have been detonated.

Soon after that, the ship loses all communication with Earth, except for some text messages that Gordon first sees on a computer screen in the station: “The ISS has been deemed a priority foothold. All U.S. citizens are to abort all order and experiments. You new objective is to take control of the ISS.” (This information was already revealed in the movie’s trailer.)

After some initial confusion, the Americans deduce that Russia must have attacked the United States, and an apocalyptic war is happening on Earth. Do the Russians on board the ship know this information? And will the Americans stay loyal to their Russian comrades on the ship, or will the Americans follow U.S. government orders and bring the apparent war inside the ship?

The answers to these questions are really what hold “I.S.S.” together, because most of the characters in the movie do not enough character development for viewers to feel like they really know these characters by the end of the movie. Very little is told the personal lives of these ISS travelers. The Russians in the movie have no backstories at all.

In a candid conversation with Gordon, Kira tells him the reason why she became a biological engineer. She says it’s because when she was a child, her terminally ill father died because he was on a waiting list for an organ transplant. Kira comments, “I made it my goal to find an easier way to manufacture what people needed.”

Kira also tells Gordon that she’s a lesbian or queer woman who wants to remain single and focused on work for now, because her ex-fiancée cheated on her and Kira is not ready to get in another love relationship. Later, it’s revealed that Gordon and Weronika have been having a flirtation or casual fling, which has no major bearing on the movie’s plot. As for Alexey and Nicholai, “I.S.S.” missed an opportunity to tell an interesting story about these two family members who are working together.

“I.S.S.” skimps on the details about what the personal stakes are for the people on the ISS to get back home safely to loved ones. However, the movie does reveal certain other information about why it’s very urgent for the ISS inhabitants to get back to Earth, against the odds and at great risk during the destruction that is happening on Earth. The question then becomes: “Who out of these six people will survive when they inevitably turn against each other?”

“I.S.S.” has competent acting for a story that occasionally stumbles with some of the science- fiction aspects that don’t always look convincing. The visual effects are solid, considering the movie’s low budget. There’s a predictability to some of the action scenes, but “I.S.S.” will keep viewers guessing (up until a certain point) about who on the ship is being honest and who is not. The movie’s ending won’t satisfy viewers who want clearly defined answers, but the ending is meant to show that there are no easy answers when it comes to human nature and being in outer space during an apocalyptic war on Earth.

Bleecker Street released “I.S.S.” in U.S. cinemas on January 19, 2024.

Review: ‘The Color Purple’ (2023), starring Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Halle Bailey and Phylicia Pearl Mpasi

December 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Taraji P. Henson, Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks in “The Color Purple” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Color Purple” (2023)

Directed by Blitz Bazawule

Culture Representation: Taking place in Georgia and in Tennessee, from 1909 to 1947, the musical “The Color Purple” (which is inspired by Alice Walker’s 1982 novel of the same name) features a predominantly African American group of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An oppressed woman named Celie endures horrific abuse and a forced separation from her beloved sister, but she meets certain people who change her outlook on life.

Culture Audience: In addition to appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of “The Color Purple” book and its various adaptations, the movie musical version of “The Color Purple” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s headliners and filmmakers, as well as to people who don’t mind watching musicals that shows extremes in human emotions.

Colman Domingo in “The Color Purple” (Photo by Ser Baffo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The movie musical “The Color Purple” creatively blends emotional highs and lows in this glitzier version of the book and the 1985 dramatic movie. More comedy and joy balance out the trauma and abuse, but the overall theme of resilience remains the same. Some fans of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” novel and some fans of director Steven Spielberg’s 1985 “The Color Purple” movie might not warm to this movie musical if they’re offended by the thought of putting song-and-dance numbers in the most upsetting parts of the story, or if they don’t like how the musical alters key parts of the original story in the novel, including the ending. However, fans of the “The Color Purple” stage musical will be pleased by how the 2023 version of “The Color Purple” is faithful to the stage musical while bringing a vibrant cinematic life of its own.

Directed by Blitz Bazawule and written by Marcus Gardley, the 2023 movie musical version of “The Color Purple” astutely depicts the movie’s most fantastical and elaborate production designs as being manifestations of the imagination of protagonist Celie (played by Fantasia Barrino) during moments in her life when she’s dreaming of escaping from her grim circumstances. It’s a manifestation that is ideal for the visual medium of cinema, which has the benefit of film editing that a stage production does not.

The Tony-winning “The Color Purple” stage musical had its first Broadway run from 2005 to 2008; has gone through various touring incarnations; and experienced a successful Broadway revival from 2015 to 2017. Barrino played the role of Celie on Broadway from 2006 to 2007. Marsha Norman wrote the book for the stage musical, whose music and lyrics were written by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. The songs range from expressing the depths of despair of a mother who has a child taken a way from her (“Somebody Gonna Love You”); the defiant declaration of not putting up with abuse (“Hell No”); the sultry seduction of adults freely expressing their sexuality (“Push Da Button”); and the triumph of independence and self-acceptance (“I’m Here”).

What “The Color Purple” stage musical and movies have in common are the involvement of Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones. Jones was a producer and composer for the 1985 “The Color Purple” movie, and he continued in the role of producer for the stage musical and the 2023 “The Color Purple” movie. Winfrey made her Oscar-nominated movie debut as an actress in 1985’s “The Color Purple,” and she’s a producer of the stage musical and the 2023 “The Color Purple” movie. Spielberg is a producer of “The Color Purple” movies, while Scott Sanders is a producer of “The Color Purple” stage musical and the 2023 version of “The Color Purple.”

“The Color Purple” movie musical (which takes place in Georgia and Tennessee) begins in 1909 in an unnamed rural area of Georgia, where 14-year-old Celie Harris (played by Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) has given birth to her second child: a son. Celie’s father Alfonso (played by Deon Cole) snatches the child away and cruelly tells Celie that she will never see this child again. He did the same thing when Celie gave birth to her first child, who was a daughter. Both pregnancies resulted from Alfonso raping Celie. It’s implied that Alfonso sold both children to be illegally adopted.

The only happiness that Celie experiences in her life is from her close relationship with her younger sister Nettie (played by Halle Bailey), who is very protective of the more insecure Celie. Nettie is the person who teaches Celie to read. They spend hours reading together, often in a tree, where they can’t be seen by their horrible father.

Alfonso isn’t done selling members of his family. A widower farmer named Albert “Mister” Johnson (played by Colman Domingo) is an abusive bully who is looking for a new wife. He insists that most people call him Mister. Mister is attracted to Nettie, but Alphonso will only allow Mister to marry Celie, who is sold into this marriage by her father when Celie is 18 years old. Barrino portrays Celie as an adult. The rest of the movie shows what happens to Celie through a period of time spanning to 1947.

In the first year of Mister and Celie’s miserable marriage, he lets Nettie live in the same household. But when Nettie rejects Mister’s sexual advances, he evicts her from the house and tells her that she can never come back. This forced separation scene isn’t as heart-wrenching as how it was in the 1985 “The Color Purple” movie, but it’s still one of the more emotionally difficult scenes to watch. Nettie promises to write to Celie every day, but Mister intercepts the letters because he tells fearful Celie (who has been beaten into submission by Mister) that he is the only person in the household who is allowed to handle the mail.

During the worst parts of Celie’s life, she meets certain people who have different effects on how she sees herself and others. Shug Avery (played by Taraji P. Henson) is a Memphis-based jazz and blues singer, who is open about her fluid sexuality. Shug is considered the “morally wayward” daughter of Reverend Avery (played by David Alan Grier), the leader of the local church attended by African American people in Celie’s area.

Mister has been in love with Shug for years. He acts like a giddy schoolboy, every time she visits the area. However, she treats him more like a sexual plaything, and she refuses Mister’s wish to make him her only lover. Mister and Shug openly carry on an affair when she’s visiting. What Shug doesn’t expect is to befriend Celie, who sees life from an entirely new perspective when she gets to know confident and sassy Shug. The connection between Celie and Shug goes beyond friendship into sexual intimacy.

Harpo Jackson (played by Corey Hawkins) is Mister’s sensitive adult son, who falls in love, marries, and starts a family with a feisty and outspoken woman named Sofia (played by Danielle Brooks), who doesn’t hesitate to get involved in physical brawls if anyone tries to pick a fight with her. The marriage of easygoing Harpo and domineering Sofia goes through ups and downs. At one point, they break up, and Harpo moves on to having a live-in girlfriend named Squeak (played by H.E.R.), who gets caught in the middle of the volatile relationship between Sofia and Harpo.

With a cast this talented and with breathtaking musical numbers (including dazzling choreography from Fatima Robinson), it’s hard to go wrong in this musical version of “The Color Purple.” This version of the story puts more emphasis on the “sisterhood” of Celie, Shug and Sofia, compared to the original story that makes Celie much more of a loner character much longer in the story. All three women have their own trials and tribulations in a society that expects them to allow their lives to be dictated and controlled by men.

Barrino, Henson and Brooks are standouts in their own right in this movie. Barrino’s Celie is often downtrodden but never completely pathetic, as she maintain her dignity during all much emotional and physical abuse that is inflicted on her. Barrino depicts Celie with slightly more intelligence than Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Celie in 1985’s “The Color Purple.” (A plot development in the last third of the movie shows Celie getting a life.

Henson puts a more comedic and lively spin on Shug, who has more comeback quips than Margaret Avery’s more understated, Oscar-nominated version of Shug in 1985’s “The Color Purple.” Henson’s Shug (especially during the musical numbers) is bold, brash and not at all interested in being subtle. In this movie, Shug’s signature song “Push Da Button” is every bit the decadent extravaganza that is should be.

Brooks, who had the Tony-nominated role of Sofia in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” is a scene stealer not just with her acting but also with her powerhouse singing. She’s arguably the strongest vocalist in this entire cast. Beyond the vocal theatrics, Brooks brings a swagger to the role of Sofia, whereas Winfrey’s version of Sofia had more stomping. Sofia is lovably flawed with a fiery temper that gets easily triggered, because she’s lived her life constantly being on the defensive from personal attacks.

The original “The Color Purple” novel and movie got some criticism for its portrayal of African American men as being either abusive or wishy-washy. In this version of “The Color Purple,” Mister is not depicted as an irredeemable villain. There are glimpses of his vulnerability, such as his fear of his cantankerous and misogynistic father Ol’ Mister (played by Louis Gossett Jr.), who scolds Mister for not being controlling enough of Celie.

Some viewers might have a problem with a certain turning point in Mister’s story arc that’s very different from the novel, but the intention seems to be to make Mister more human and less of a one-dimensional villain. Domingo as Mister handles this balancing act with considerable skill. The father/son relationship between Mister and Harpo is explored in more depth in addressing issues of how toxic masculinity can be passed down in a family for generations, unless someone in the family is willing to stop the cycle.

Even in settings where many of the characters live in poverty, “The Color Purple” is rich in its depiction of African American culture at this particular time in this region of the United States. The scenes that take place in Celie’s imagination are entirely consistent with how Celie dreams about how her life could be more glamorous and happier than it really is. An inspired set design shows Celie giving Shug a bath, while the bathtub revolves on a giant gramophone turntable.

“The Color Purple” can certainly spark debate about whether or not the world needs another version of Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. And there are definitely worthy discussions to be had about why so many “awards bait” movies centered on African Americans have a lot of violence, poverty and/or trauma. But for what it is in depicting a specific group of African Americans during a time in American history before the U.S. civil rights movement, this version of “The Color Purple” is a worthy adaptation that gives each of the principal characters clear and distinctive personalities and varied ways to better understand who they are.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Color Purple” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023. UPDATE: The movie will be released on digital and VOD on January 16, 2024.

Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,’ starring Max Pelayo, Reese Gonzales, Veronica Falcón, Kevin Alejandro, Eva Longoria and Eugenio Derbez

December 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales in “Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”

Directed by Aitch Alberto

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1987, in El Paso, Texas, and in Chicago, the dramatic film “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (based on the 2012 novel of the same name) features a predominantly Latin cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: When a 16-year-old brooding loner meets a teenage boy of the same age who has an opposite personality, they become unlikely friends that could turn into something more, but one of the teens is afraid to admit this romantic attraction. 

Culture Audience: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted coming-of-age dramas told from a queer perspective.

Reese Gonzales and Max Pelayo in “Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” isn’t just another “opposites attract” movie. The engaging and realistic performances by Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales keep things interesting in this self-identity teen drama when the story starts to wander and get unfocused. The ending is predictable, but the journey to get there is worth watching.

Written and directed by Aitch Alberto, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is based on Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s 2012 novel of the same name. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s an emotionally authentic story about friendship and young love that happens to also be about coming to terms with someone’s true sexuality.

The movie, which takes place in 1987, begins in El Paso, Texas. That’s where 16-year-old Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza (played by Pelayo) lives with his parents. Ari’s father Jaime Mendoza (played by Eugenio Derbez, one of the movie’s producers) is a mailman. Ari’s mother Liliana Mendoza (played by Veronica Falcón) appears to be a homemaker. Ari is a student at Austin Public High School, where he is a quiet and introverted loner.

Ari has a brother who’s about 10 years older named Bernardo, who is in prison. Bernardo went to prison when Ari was too young (about 5 years old) to know what happened. Ari’s parents have refused to tell Ari why Bernardo is in prison because it’s a shameful secret. The only thing that Ari knows is that Bernardo is in prison for a violent crime.

There’s a scene early on in the movie where Ari and Liliana are in the kitchen in their family home. She gets upset when Ari jokes that he’s going to join a gang. “I’m Mexican,” Ari says. “Isn’t that what we do?”

In the beginning of the movie, Ari says in a voiceover: “One summer night, I fell asleep, hoping the night would be different when I woke up. In the morning, I opened my eyes, and the world was the same.” However, that summer, Ari would meet someone special, and both of ther lives would never be the same.

That special someone is Dante Quintana (played by Gonzales), who meets Ari for the first time when they happen to be at the same public swimming pool. Dante offers to teach Ari to swim when he notices Ari struggling a little bit in the pool. Ari is too proud to ask for a lot of help, but he and Dante strike up a conversation. It’s not that hard to do because Dante is very friendly and talkative.

The conversation turns into a genuine friendship, despite Dante and Ari having opposite personalities and different family backgrounds. Dante’s father Sam Quintana (played by Kevin Alejandro) is a university professor. Dante’s mother Soledad Quintana (played by Eva Longoria) is sophisticated and very open-minded. Dante (who is an only child) mentions at one point in the movie that he has Mexican heritage because of his mother’s side of the family.

Ari’s and Dante’s bedrooms are also a study in contrasts. Ari’s room is small and uncluttered, with nothing hanging on the walls. Dante’s room is large, cluttered and messy. Each of their rooms is a reflection of how they live their lives. Ari is guarded and doesn’t easily reveal himself to a lot of people. Dante, who doesn’t really care if people think he’s a little weird, lives his life exuberantly.

Ari and Dante eventually meet each other’s parents. When Dante meets Ari’s parents for the first time, he gives them a book of Mexican art. Dante says that it was Dante’s father’s idea to give this gift. Dante is the type of person who likes artsy independent films, while Ari likes more mainstream entertainment. Ari looks like he could be a heartthrob athlete. Dante looks like he could be a sensitive intellectual.

Dante and Ari’s close friendship continues after their summer break is over and the new school year begins. Dante is new to the school, so Ari has to be the one to tell him to steer clear of the school’s chief gossip Gina Navarro (played by Isabella Gomez) and her equally nosy sidekick Susie Byrd (played by Hanani Taylor), who both immediately notice how close Dante and Ari are. As far as Ari is concerned, he wants everyone to think that he’s heterosexual and that his seemingly unlikely friendship with Dante is strictly platonic.

Ari becomes so close to Dante and Dante’s parents, they all go on a camping trip together. It’s during this trip that Ari and Dante look through a telescope. Dante tells Ari, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.”

The friendship of Dante and Ari is put to the test when Dante drops some surprising news: Dante’s father accepted a year-long visiting professor job at the University of Chicago. The middle section of the movie shows what happens when Dante is in Chicago and Ari is in El Paso. Dante writes letters to Ari, and they both go on dates with girls who are about the same age.

Ari’s would-be love interest is a schoolmate named Elena Tellez (played by Luna Blaise), who makes the first move in flirting with Ari. As for Dante, it’s obvious that Dante is not entirely comfortable being romantic with girls, and he’s been in love with Ari all along. And what about Ari? The rest of the movie is about whether or not Ari can express his true feelings, which are confusing to him and which he often denies.

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” has some parts of the story that are somewhat mundane and somewhat melodramatic. Because it takes less time for Dante to express his true feelings, the last third of the movie becomes an extended “guessing game” of what Ari will do when he finds out that Dante has romantic feelings for him. The direction of the movie is solid, but the pacing of the film could have been better.

However, because of the talented cast in “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” viewers will get a good sense of what the characters are feeling from different angles. Although the focus of the story is on Ari and Dante, their parents’ perspectives are also given importance and show why Ari and Dante both have different ways of coming to terms with their respective sexualities. There’s plenty of teen angst in the movie, but what viewers will most remember is that it’s a story about living your truth, even when being honest about who you are and who you love can be painful.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” in select U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Eileen’ (2023), starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland and Owen Teague

December 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Eileen” (2023)

Directed by William Oldroyd

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1964 in an unnamed city in Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Eileen” (based on the 2015 novel of the same film) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A shy administrative assistant at a juvenile detention center becomes enamored with a newly hired psychiatrist at the same job, and the two women do their own kind of pushback on what society expects from women. 

Culture Audience: “Eileen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the book on which the movie is based, and movies about repression and mental illness that take an unexpected turn.

Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway in “Eileen” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Much like the movie’s namesake, “Eileen” appears to be going one way and then goes in a very different direction. The cast members’ intriguing performances are the main reason to watch this psychological drama, which takes a very dark turn near the end. The movie is weakened by a vague ending that doesn’t give the closure and answers that were given in the book.

Directed by William Oldroyd, “Eileen” is based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel of the same name. Moshfegh and Luke Goebel co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “Eileen.” The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

“Eileen” takes place during a bitterly cold winter in 1964, in an unnamed Massachusetts city not far from Boston. (“Eileen” was actually filmed in New York and New Jersey.) Eileen Dunlop (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is a 24-year-old bachelorette, who lives a dreary existence with her alcoholic, widower father Jim Dunlop (played by Shea Whigham), who is a former police chief. In addition to his alcoholism, there are indications that Jim has an undiagnosed mental illness.

Jim is verbally and physically abusive to Eileen, who is miserable living with her father, but she can’t afford to move out of the house. Eileen doesn’t report the abuse because she knows that Jim still has friends in the local police force. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Eileen has a co-dependent, love/hate relationship with her father. She hates his abuse, but she also wants to feel needed, because he depends on her to take care of him.

Eileen has an older sister named Joanne, who is married and hasn’t come by to visit in quite some time. Jim tells Eileen in no uncertain terms that Joanne is his favorite child. During one of Jim’s many drunken rants, he tells Eileen that he wishes that Eileen were as organized as Joanne is. There are hints that Jim probably sexually abused Joanne as a child, which would explain why Joanne is keeping her distance from him as an adult.

For the past three or four years, Eileen has been working as a secretary/administrative assistant at Moorehead, a boys’ juvenile detention center, which is essentially a prison. It’s mentioned at one point in the movie that Eileen is a college dropout. At her job, Eileen isn’t very well-liked by the other secretaries in the office, because she’s quiet and keeps mostly to herself. Mrs. Murray (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan) and Mrs. Stevens (played by Tonye Patano) are the two of the nosy co-workers who speak in gossipy and condescending tones to Eileen.

The beginning of the movie shows that Eileen is very introverted, but she’s not as prim and proper as she appears to the outside world. Eileen is kind of a kinky voyeur: She puts ice down her underwear after watching a couple’s makeout session. Eileen’s love life is non-existent, but she has vivid sexual fantasies about having sex with a Moorehead guard named Randy (played by Owen Teague), who’s about the same age as Eileen.

However, someone else on the job arouses Eileen’s sexual interest even more than Randy. Her name is Rebecca St. John (played by Anne Hathaway), who is Moorehead’s newly hired prison psychologist. Eileen is entranced with Rebecca from the moment that she meets this new co-worker. Rebecca, who is originally from New York City, looks and acts more like a glamorous movie star than a psychologist.

At one point, Rebecca tells Eileen that although she’s had plenty of boyfriends, she’s never been married. Rebecca says her dating relationships are “just for fun” and never last. Rebecca comes across as a progressive (she believes that psychedelic drugs should be used as therapy) and independent (she say she loves living by herself), which is the opposite of the conservative and stifling lifestyle that Eileen feels she is being pressured to live.

Eileen is infatuated with Rebecca’s sophisticated ways and seems to be fascinated with everything that Rebecca does. Rebecca notices this admiration and makes an effort to befriend Eileen, who is very flattered by the attention and the compliments that she gets from Rebecca. It’s obvious that Eileen wants her relationship with Rebecca to be more than a friendship, but does Rebecca feels the same way?

One day, Eileen notices Rebecca having a counseling session with an inmate named Lee Polk (played by Sam Nivola) and his mother, who is identified in the movie only as Mrs. Polk (played by Marin Ireland). Lee is in prison for murdering his father by stabbing him to death in the father’s bed. The father was a police officer who worked in the same police department as Eileen’s father Jim.

Eileen can see the counseling session through glass windows, but she can’t hear what’s being said behind closed doors. However, Eileen knows that the session ended badly because Mrs. Polk storms out and shouts, “Filthy, nasty boy!” Meanwhile, Lee smirks in reaction to seeing his mother upset.

Shortly after the session ends, Rebecca asks Eileen if she thinks Mrs. Polk is an angry woman. Eileen doesn’t know enough about Mrs. Polk to give an opinion either way. However, Eileen tells Rebecca that she thinks Lee is intelligent and that he doesn’t seem like the type to be a cold-blooded murderer.

A turning point in Eileen’s relationship with Rebecca happens when Rebecca asks Eileen to go with her to a local bar. Rebecca says it’s because she’s new to the area and wants to meet more new people. But as far as Eileen is concerned (based on how excitedly she gets ready for this meet-up), Rebecca has asked her on a date. At the bar, Rebecca will only dance with Eileen and literally shoves a man away who tries to cut in on Rebecca and Eileen dancing together.

One of the strengths of “Eileen” is how all of the principal cast members make their characters very believable. Even when not much is happening in certain scenes, the performances of McKenzie and Hathaway make viewers wonder what Eileen and Rebecca might be really thinking, compared to what they’re saying out loud. That’s an example of the compelling acting in this movie.

Viewers who don’t know what’s in the “Eileen” book or don’t know what happens in the last third of the movie probably won’t see the plot twist coming. The “Eileen” book is told from the perspective of a middle-aged Eileen looking back on her life. The “Eileen” movie does not give that retrospective context and therefore brings up questions that remain unanswered by the end of the film. However, the movie has an impeccable buildup to its most suspenseful moments, even if the ending won’t be as satisfying as some viewers hope it will be.

Neon released “Eileen” in select U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘Dear David’ (2023), starring Augustus Prew, Andrea Bang, René Escobar Jr., Cameron Nicoll and Justin Long

November 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Augustus Prew and Cameron Nicoll in “Dear David” (Photo by Stephanie Montani/Lionsgate)

“Dear David” (2023)

Directed by John McPhail

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City in 2017 (and briefly in 1996), the horror film “Dear David” (based on a real Internet story that went viral) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latin people, and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A comic artist who works for BuzzFeed believes that he is being haunted by a ghost named David, and he chronicles his experiences in messages on Twitter. 

Culture Audience: “Dear David” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching mindless and incoherent horror movies with annoying characters.

Jarrett Siddall in “Dear David” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Dear David” is what happens when misguided filmmakers think a social media fad story can be made into a movie that a lot of people weren’t asking for in the first place. This pointless horror flick is boring, jumbled, and a complete waste of time. “Dear David” is based on true events from 2017, when a BuzzFeed comic artist named Adam Ellis went on Twitter to detail his supposed encounters with a murderous ghost named David. BuzzFeed Studios is one of the production companies behind this forgettable flop movie.

Directed by John McPhail and written by Mike Van Waes, “Dear David” is the first feature film for Van Waes. The “Dear David” screenplay is the weakest link in this terrible movie, but it’s certainly not the only reason why “Dear David” is a complete failure on every level. What viewers will see are monotonous and repetitive scenes of protagonist Adam Ellis (played by Augustus Prew) having nightmarish visions that he’s not sure are real or part of his imagination.

The beginning of this movie shows this introductory statement: “In 2017, Adam Ellis began documenting a series of strange encounters that were happening in his apartment, He posted them on Twitter, and these ‘Dear David’ posts became a viral sensation. The following is based on those true events.”

If you believe that “on Twitter” and “true events” are automatically synonymous, then perhaps you’d like to think that Twitter owner Elon Musk can buy the Brooklyn Bridge too. Hauntings that were fabricated to make people famous have been around much longer than social media existed. You only need to look at the proliferation of paranormal-themed TV shows and Web series to see that plenty of people are trying find fame and fortune from “investigating” hauntings.

And so, the motives of Adam Ellis are obviously suspect from the start. In real life, Ellis has been open about his mental health issues, which might or might not have played a role in his ghostly sightings. The fact that BuzzFeed cashed in on an employee’s admittedly shaky mental health by making this awful movie makes “Dear David” even more repulsive.

“Dear David” begins in New York City in 1996, a year when the Internet was fairly new to the world. A reclusive loner boy named David Johnson (played by Cameron Nicoll), who’s 10 years old, spends a lot of time using the Internet on a computer in the basement of his family home. David’s mother is worried about his Internet activities. David’s father has the opposite opinion: He thinks that the Internet is a sensation that will take over the world.

An early scene in the movie shows David getting cyberbullied in a chat room by an anonymous person, who sends David a message calling David a “loser.” David writes back, “Why are you so mean?” The harasser answers, “Why don’t you kill yourself?”

The movie then fast-forwards to 2017. At BuzzFeed headquarters in New York City, Adam is a comic artist who’s not doing very well on the job. He’s distracted by Internet harassers who insult his work. Adam’s annoying boss Bryce (played by Justin Long, in a quick cameo) hints that Adam could be fired if Adam doesn’t get a larger audience for Adam’s work. Bryce says that Adam has “relatable” content, but Adam’s audience reach is “kind of lame.”

Adam has two writer co-workers whose desks are right next to his. Evelyn (played by Andrea Bang) is Adam’s closest friend at work and one of the few people he trusts will be supportive of him when things in his life get weird. Norris (played by Tricia Black) is phony and very competitive. Norris is the type of person who tries too hard to impress the boss while making passive-aggressive digs at her co-workers.

“Dear David” spends quite a bit of time on Adam’s relationship with his boyfriend Kyle Sanchez (played by René Escobar Jr.), who is loving and loyal but getting impatient and feels somewhat hurt that Adam is not ready to introduce Kyle to Adam’s mother. (The movie never says what happened to Adam’s father.) There’s also some other drama about how Adam hasn’t come out as gay to everyone in his life.

Who is the ghost that’s causing the terror in the movie? Two unlucky teens named Kevin (played by Seth Murchison) and James (played by Ethan Hwang) find out when they use false identities to go on the Internet to play pranks on people. An example of the pranks is Kevin and James pretending to be attractive young women looking for dates with men, and when they get men to be interested, Kevin and James reveal that they are really underage boys and shame the men for being perverts.

One day, someone on the Internet named David falls for one of their pranks. David doesn’t think it’s funny and tells Kevin and James that they are both going to die. During their contentious online conversation, David warns Kevin and James that when people first talk to David online, they can only ask David two questions.

It should come as no surprise that one of the teens breaks this rule and asks more than two questions. One of the questions Kevin asks is: “How am I going to die?” David answers, “Alone, afraid, and wetting your bed.” You can easily guess what happens to Kevin in this dreadfully predictable movie.

Adam also encounters David online, but David torments Adam much longer than David’s usual victims. After doing some research, Adam is convinced that the David who’s been contacting him on the Internet and who’s attacking him in these haunting visions is the ghost of a boy named David, who had a tragic story. Take a wild guess which David that is. The ghost who is haunting Adam appears to be an adult version of David (played by Jarrett Siddall), who doesn’t look very menacing and looks more like psychiatric facility patient who needs to brush his teeth.

“Dear David” could’ve had so many interesting things to say about cyberbullying and ghost hauntings, but the movie doesn’t know what to do with these narratives and just makes everything a mess. The acting performances are subpar for the movie’s characters, who are hollow, irritating or both. The overall direction for “Dear David” is sloppy and unfocused. Because the foundation of “Dear David” is a weak and gimmicky Internet story that briefly went viral, that foundation sinks quickly into a cesspool of cinematic muck where stupid horror movies are quickly forgotten.

Lionsgate released “Dear David” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 13, 2023.

Review: ‘Saltburn,’ starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver and Archie Madekwe

November 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Barry Keoghan in “Saltburn” (Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Saltburn”

Directed by Emerald Fennell

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, mostly in 2006, the comedy/drama film “Saltburn” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious Oxford University student becomes infatuated with his rich male classmate, who invites him to spend the summer with him at his family’s sprawling estate, where mind games and chaos ensue. 

Culture Audience: “Saltburn” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies that skewer the upper class of society.

Jacob Elordi in “Saltburn” (Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Saltburn” seems inspired by “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” with a touch of “Absolutely Fabulous. “Although not as great as these inspirations, “Saltburn” has memorable performances and eye-catching scenes. The ending has a major plot hole. This plot hole might be easily overlooked during the sequence of events that are meant to shock viewers, but it’s a plot hole that nearly ruins what could have been a completely believable conclusion. Hint: “Saltburn” ignores the fact that coroners exist.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, “Saltburn” is her second feature film as a writer/director, following her 2020 feature-film directorial debut, “Promising Young Woman,” which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. “Saltburn” has many recycled plot points from other movies, so “Saltburn” is not really all that original, but it does have some scenes that are fairly unique. “Saltburn” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

“Saltburn” (which takes place mostly in 2006) begins by showing the arrival of a new student at Oxford University in England: Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan) has joined the graduating Class of 2006 sometime in December 2005, close to the Christmas holiday season. Oliver is a loner who is the type of overachieving student who will read every book on a professor’s recommended list, even though he doesn’t have to do all that work.

One of the first people Oliver meets at Oxford is one of his roommates: Michael Gavey (played by Ewan Mitchell), who wants to be Oliver’s friend and is even nerdier and more socially awkward than Oliver is. Michael is the type of dork who will bark out demands that Oliver prove his knowledge of answers to random questions that Michael verbally throws at him. Michael likes to feel intellectually superior to almost everyone, even though he secretly craves acceptance from the popular students in the school.

The most popular clique in the class is led by a wealthy heartthrob named Felix Catton (played by Jacob Elordi), who uses his good looks and charm to get whatever he wants. The Catton family’s opulent and sprawling estate is called Saltburn. The other students in Felix’s clique are also affluent and/or come from prominent families.

The opening scene of “Saltburn” shows Oliver saying, “I wasn’t in love with him. I loved him, of course, Everyone loved him … I protected him … But was I in love with him?” Before he answers that question, the movie shows Oliver’s arrival at Oxford.

The “him” in Oliver’s opening monologue is Felix, of course. Oliver seems instantly infatuated with Felix the moment that he sees Felix. Oliver admires Felix from afar, until one day, Oliver is riding his bike on campus, when he sees Felix looking dejected as Felix is sitting near a tree-lined bikeway path. Oliver stops and asks Felix what’s wrong. Felix says that his bicycle has a flat tire.

Felix explains that he’s already late for a class, which is too far away for him to walk in order not to miss most of the class session. Oliver generously lets Felix borrow Oliver’s bike. A grateful Felix later invites Oliver to hang out with Felix and his inner circle at a local pub. It’s the beginning of a friendship between Felix and Oliver, who quickly shuns Michael after Oliver is accepted into Felix’s clique. Michael isn’t too happy about this rejection and later makes some hilarious cutting remarks to Oliver about Oliver’s social climbing.

Someone who also isn’t happy about Oliver joining the group is Felix’s American cousin Farleigh Start (played by Archie Madekwe), who sees Oliver as a socially inferior interloper. Farleigh already had a grudge against Oliver, who embarrassed Farleigh in front of one of their teachers named Professor Ware (played Reece Shearsmith), when Oliver showed he knew more than Farleigh about the topic of discussion.

However, Farleigh still has some clout with the professor, who confesses that Farleigh’s mother (a famous actress named Fredrika Start, who’s never seen in the movie) was his crush when he and Fredrika were students at Oxford. People who watch “Saltburn” shouldn’t miss the first 15 minutes of the movie, which quickly explains the backstories of Farleigh and Oliver, who end up having a rivalry over Felix’s attention.

Farleigh’s mother moved to the United States, where Farleigh was born and raised. She had some kind of mental breakdown and has financial problems, so she sent Farleigh to live at Saltburn, because her brother is Sir James Catton (played by Richard E. Grant), who is Felix’s father. Farleigh’s father is not in Farleigh’s life. It’s mentioned Farleigh has been expelled from many schools for getting sexually involved with male teachers. Farleigh feels a lot of resentment and shame for having to ask his uncle James for money.

As for Oliver, the word has gotten around to many students at the school that he’s on a scholarship. Oliver tells people that he is an only child, and his estranged parents are heavily involved in drugs. According to Oliver, his father is a drug dealer who’s been in and out of prison. His mother is a drug addict and an alcoholic. Oliver hints that he experienced a lot of abuse and trauma in his childhood. Oliver makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with his parents.

“Saltburn” breezes by the academic year to show the graduation of Oxford’s Class of 2006. With no immediate plans after graduation, Felix invites Oliver to stay for the summer with the Catton family at Saltburn. The best parts of the movie take place at Saltburn, which is not only a playground for the family’s indulgences but also a prison of bottled-up resentments, sexual manipulation, and psychological warfare. Oliver gets swept up in it all.

The other members of the Catton family at Saltburn are Felix’s self-centered and vapid mother Elspeth Catton (played by Rosamund Pike) and Felix’s jaded and insecure late-teens sister Venetia Catton (played by Alison Oliver), who have some of the best lines in the movie. Elspeth is the type of person who will smile and pretend that her insults are compliments. Venetia, who has an eating disorder, is both rebellious and needy.

All of the Catton family members don’t do much at Saltburn except smoke, drink, eat lavish meals, lounge around, and have parties. When the younger members of the family play tennis, they wear tuxedos and party clothes. The family has a longtime butler named Duncan (played by Paul Rhys), whose “stiff upper lip” mannerisms suggest that he’s heard and seen a lot of unmentionable things at Saltburn, but he is loyally discreet.

Carey Mulligan (the star of “Promising Young Woman”) has a small supporting role in “Saltburn” as Elspeth’s tattooed friend Pamela, who is staying at Saltburn after getting out of drug rehab. Pamela has overstayed her welcome, but Elspeth won’t come right out and tell Pamela to leave. The snappy rapport between redhead Pamela and blonde Elspeth will remind “Absolutely Fabulous” sitcom fans of the rapport between “Absolutely Fabulous” substance-abusing fashionista friends Edina “Eddie” Monsoon (the redhead) and Patricia “Patsy” Stone (the blonde).

“Saltburn” unpeels the layers of Oliver, who at first seems in awe and somewhat overwhelmed to be in the presence of the Catton family’s wealth. Slowly but surely, it’s revealed that there’s a lot more to Oliver than what he first appeared to be. And there are some things he does in the movie (especially those involving bodily fluids) that are intended to make viewers uncomfortable.

Keoghan gives a fascinating performance as Oliver, who is quite the chameleon. Madekwe is compelling in his depiction of the very snarky Farleigh, Oliver’s main adversary. Pike and Oliver are also standouts for their portrayals of a mother and daughter who are caught between smug vanity and crippling self-doubt. Look beneath the physically attractive surfaces of Elspeth and Venetia, and you’ll see two women who hate that their worth is defined by how they look and how much wealth they have.

Elordi is also quite good in his role as Felix, who is shallow but is a less-toxic member of the Catton family. “Saltburn” plays with viewers’ expectations of whether or not ladies’ man Felix will acknowledge Oliver’s obvious infatuation with Felix. And if so, what will be done about it? And what if Oliver gets rejected?

“Saltburn” has some stunning cinematography (by Linus Sandgren) that alternates between bright hues of idyllic luxury and the shadowy darkness of secrets and decadence. The movie’s production design and costume design are also noteworthy. “Saltburn” has some intense emotional scenes that are well-acted with clever dialogue.

Where “Saltburn” stumbles the most is in the last 20 minutes of the movie, which will be divisive to viewers. The concluding part of “Saltburn” is very suspenseful, but when answers to mysteries are finally revealed, they are rushed through the story and just create more questions that the movie never bothers to answer. Still, there’s no denying that the cast members’ performances are worth watching. And the movie’s flaws are outnumbered by the areas where “Saltburn” excels.

Amazon MGM Studios released “Saltburn” in select U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023. Prime Video will premiere “Saltburn” on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,’ starring Nikki Giovanni

November 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nikki Giovanni in “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project”

Directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson

Culture Representation: This biographical documentary film of activist/poet Nikki Giovanni features her first-person perspective, as well as commentary from African Americans and white people who are connected to her in some way.

Culture Clash: Giovanni, an outspoken critic of white supremacist racism, discusses overcoming an abusive background, family conflicts and resistance to her activism.

Culture Audience: “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching documentaries about unusual political activists.

Nikki Giovanni in “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” is a journey into a unique life and perspective that might not be for everyone, but it stands firm in its authenticity. This documentary about poet/activist Nikki Giovanni is bold and somewhat unconventional, just like Giovanni. The movie evokes outer space travel as an apt metaphor for how ideas and influences can transcend boundaries.

Directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. The movie is told almost entirely from the perspective of Giovanni, with narration of some of her poems by actress Taraji P. Henson. The movie has the expected mix of archival footage and interviews conducted exclusively for the documnetary. However, “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” has added elements of atmospheric scenes of outer space, since Giovanni talks a lot about space travel and Mars.

The movie opens with a quote from Giovanni, “The trip to Mars can only be understood through black Americans.” If that sentence intrigues you, then this documentary might be your type of movie. Giovanni says in the documentary’s opening remark: “I don’t remember a lot of things, but a lot of things I don’t remember, I don’t choose to remember. I remember what’s important, and I make up the rest. That’s what storytelling is all about.”

In voiceover narration, Henson can be heard saying a line from Giovanni’s writing: “I think I’ll run away with the ants and live on Mars.” In another voiceover, Giovanni says: “I’m a big fan of black women, because in our blood is space travel, because we come from a known through an unknown. And that’s all that space travel is. If anybody can find what’s out there in the darkness, it’s black women.”

During a public Q&A with journalist/writer Touré, to promote her 2017 non-fiction book “A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter,” Giovanni comments on the enslaved black female slaves who were kidnapped in Africa and forced to live an enslaved life in the United States, where they were often raped by their white enslavers: “Being forced to have sex with aliens, whatever they put in us, we held it, and then we birthed it, and then we named it, and then we loved it. Why wouldn’t we do that on Mars?”

Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni on June 7, 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee, but spent much of her childhood living in Ohio. Sometime in her childhood, she was given the nickname Nikki. Her parents Yolande Cornelia Sr. and Jones “Gus” Giovanni (who were sweethearts at Knoxville College) worked in public schools. Nikki graduated from Fisk University in Nashville in 1967. She has been a professor of writing and literature at Virginia Tech since 1987.

Nikki first came to national prominence as part of the Black Power movement that rose in the late 1960s. The documentary includes many archival clips of her appearances on TV shows, including “Soul!,” where she was a frequent guest. “Going to Mars” has has footage of several of Nikki’s speaking appearances, including at the 2016 Afropunk festival.

She also gets candid about her parents’ volatile marriage and says that her father often beat up her mother. Nikki says in a voiceover: “It was a stormy relationship at various points, but we know that deprivation gives us stormy relationships.” Later, she is shown saying during a WHYY radio interview about how she felt about her abusive father at the time she lived with him: “It was clear I was going to have to kill him, or else I’d have to move.”

Nikki’s complicated emotions about race and gender includes admitting to her prejudices. In a “Soul!” interview she did in 1971 with writer/poet James Baldwin, when she was at the height of her Black Power fame, she confessed that her biases were affecting her personal life: “I don’t like white people, and I’m afraid of black men. What do you do? That’s a cycle. And that’s unfortunate, because I need love.”

Nikki found love with her wife Virginia Fowler, who recruited Nikki to work at Virginia Tech. The two women are both cancer survivors: Nikki battled lung cancer in the 1990s. Fowler is recovering from lung cancer and breast cancer. Fowler talks a little bit about her cancer journey, but Nikki doesn’t really discuss her own cancer experiences in the documentary.

Nikki’s selective memory is also shown when someone named Tom calls her to ask Nikki to discuss her time at an unnamed magazine, but she declines to be interviewed. Nikki says it’s because she had a seizure and “doesn’t remember much.” She also chooses not to go into details about the relationship that resulted in the birth of her only child Thomas Govanni, who was born in 1969, and she raised him as a single mother.

Nikki doesn’t talk about the turbulent relationship that she’s had with Thomas, but Fowler comments that Nikki and Thomas were estranged for a number of years and have since reconciled. Thomas and his daughter Kai Giovanni appear briefly in the documentary, which shows Kai going to Nikki’s house for the first time.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of this documentary is that the most candid comments from Nikki are not things she said in exclusive interviews for the documentary but things she talked about in archival clips. Much credit should be given to the documentary’s research and editing teams for including a lot of this rarely seen footage. The documentary’s editing artfully weaves outer-space footage with the rest of the footage so that viewers feel like they are taken on a cosmic journey through Nikki’s life.

Most of the documentary’s original footage of Nikki consists of her at her home (such as a scene of her doing some gardening), hanging out with friends such as performer Novella Nelson, or making public speaking appearances. The most vulnerable that Nikki gets in the documentary is toward the end, when she copes with the grief over the death of her beloved aunt Agnes, who passed away at age 94. The documentary shows Nikki getting the news of the death and later speaking at Agnes’ funeral. Nikki comments during a moment that she is now the oldest living person in her family.

Nikki’s outlook on life can be summed up in two of her speaking appearances that are featured in the documentary. In a Q&A at the Apollo Theater with educator/actress Johnetta Cole, Nikki says: “I honestly think the most important word for me is ‘duty.’ … Our people have a great history, and it’s our duty to tell that story.” At another speaking appearance at a library in front of children, Nikki (who has written several children’s books) says: “I’m very fortunate that I just don’t care what people think about me.”

HBO released “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” in select U.S. cinemas on November 3, 2023. HBO and Max will premiere the movie on January 8, 2024.

Review: ‘Medusa Deluxe,’ starring Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Clare Perkins, Darrell D’Silva, Debris Stevenson, Harriet Webb, Heider Ali, Kae Alexander, Kayla Meikle, Lilit Lesser and Luke Pasqualino

October 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Clare Perkins and Lilit Lesser in “Medusa Deluxe” (Photo by Robbie Ryan/A24)

“Medusa Deluxe”

Directed by Thomas Hardiman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Medusa Deluxe” features a racially diverse (white, black, Latin and Asian) cast of characters portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Hairstylists and their associates, who are preparing for a hairstyling competition, try to solve the mystery of who recently murdered a nearby salon owner.

Culture Audience: “Medusa Deluxe” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching offbeat murder mysteries with unusual characters.

Darrell D’Silva in “Medusa Deluxe” (Photo by Robbie Ryan/A24)

“Medusa Deluxe” is an ambitious and interesting but erratic murder mystery happening during a hairstyling contest. This frenetic dramedy would have worked better as a stage play. The characters are memorable though. The best scenes outshine any flaws. “Medusa Deluxe” made the rounds at several film festivals in 2022, including the Locarno Film Festival, where “Medusa Deluxe” had its world premiere. The film is acerbic, often weird, and filmed like it takes place in a neon-lit underground nightclub, where the amateur sleuths are neurotic hairdressers and their associates.

“Medusa Deluxe” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Thomas Hardiman. The movie is definitely not intended to have the same appeal as blockbuster films. It’s the type of quirky independent film where after the first 15 minutes, viewers will either be intrigued enough to want to watch more or will be turned off completely. Some of the characters talk in thick British accents (without English-language subtitles) and use a lot of British slang, so it might be difficult for some viewers to understand certain parts of the movie’s dialogue.

Filmed as if it’s in real time, “Medusa Deluxe” begins in a hair salon, just a few hours before the contest is set to begin. The movie takes place in an unnamed city in England. The people in the salon are abuzz about the death of a rival salon owner named Mosca (played by John Alan Roberts, shown in flashbacks), whose salon is nearby. Mosca had a particularly gruesome murder: He was scalped. No one in the salon seems to know exactly when Mosca was murdered, but they assume (based on what they’ve heard about the condition of his body), the murdered happened in the past 24 hours.

The people in the salon are waiting for investigating police to arrive to interview them. The hairstylist who is the loudest and most volatile in this group is salon worker Cleve (played by Clare Perkins), who is paranoid and superstitious about how this murder will affect her life and her chances in the upcoming contest. Cleve says that her father told her, “Evil will triumph” and “They follow me, dead people.”

Cleve had a tension-filled relationship with Mosca. She tells a story about hitting him over the head once with a shampoo bottle. What Cleve doesn’t say out loud right away but is pretty obvious is that because of her known history of conflicts with Mosca, she might become the prime suspect in his murder. Cleve can’t hide her nervousness about what she will say when the police arrive.

Also in the salon is hairstylist Kendra (played by Harriet Webb), who is another person who doesn’t get along well with Cleve. There’s been some gossip that Kendra and Mosca were conspiring to fix the contest so that Kendra would win. Not surprisingly, Cleve is furious about it. But does that mean Kendra killed Mosca to keep him quiet?

Another hair stylist is Divine (played by Kayla Meikle), who spreads gossip and misinformation, not necessarily to be malicious but because she likes to act as if she knows more than other people do. Three female models who are getting their hair styled for the contest are Timba (played by Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Angie (played by Lilit Lesser) and Etsy (played by Debris Stevenson), whose personalities aren’t as forceful as the hairstylists. Timba is the one who found Mosca’s body. Etsy starts to become suspicious of Kendra.

Some other characters might or might not be persons of interest in this murder. Mosca’s live-in boyfriend Angel (played by Luke Pasqualino), a very flamboyant Colombian immigrant, shows up and makes it known to everyone how much he is grieving. Mosca and Angel have an infant son named Pablo, whom Angel carries around with him, because apparently Angel couldn’t find a babysitter.

It turns out that Mosca was having a secret affair with a man named Rene (played by Darrell D’Silva), the director of a regional hairstyling competition who bankrolled Mosca’s salon. And that revelation adds more potential suspects to the list. Could Rene or Angel be the murderer? There’s also a socially awkward security guard named Gac (played by Heider Ali), who lurks about and seems to want to become friends with Rene.

“Medusa Deluxe” is often a cacophony of arguments, suspicions and resentments that erupt between this group of people. Although they want to know who killed Mosca, the hairstyling contest isn’t far from their minds. No one wants to drop out of the contest because of the murder.

Some of the fun in watching “Medusa Deluxe” is seeing the wild hairstyles that are being created for the contest. The styling of the hair is treated like avant-garde works of art, with wiring and extra materials infused in the hair to achieve the illusion that the hair is some type of art sculpture. (“The bigger, the better” is apparently one of the standards.)

The acting performances in “Medusa Deluxe” are adequate, with the exception of Pasqualino, whose over-the-top mugging for the camera looks amateurish and quickly gets annoying in how it becomes a shallow stereotype of gay men. However, “Medusa Deluxe” is unusual enough to hold the interest of people who don’t mind watching a bunch of unconventional people trying to solve a mystery while under the pressure of being in an upcoming contest that can affect their careers. The answer to the mystery isn’t too surprising, but there are a few clever surprises along the way.

A24 released “Medusa Deluxe” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on August 11, 2023.

Review: ‘Dicks: The Musical,’ starring Aaron Jackson, Josh Sharp, Megan Mullally, Nathan Lane, Megan Thee Stallion and Bowen Yang

October 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Nathan Lane, Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson and Megan Mullally in “Dicks: The Musical” (Photo by Justin Lubin/A24)

“Dicks: The Musical”

Directed by Larry Charles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the musical comedy film “Dicks: The Musical” (based on the stage show “Fucking Identical Twins”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people, Latin people and Asians) portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two sexist and egotistical salesmen, who are rivals at the same company, find out that they’re identical twins, and they go on a quest to reunite their divorced parents, one of whom is living life as a gay person.

Culture Audience: “Dicks: The Musical” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the stage production on which this movie is based; the movie’s headlining stars; and comedy musicals that don’t have much to offer but gimmicky raunchiness.

Megan Thee Stallion, Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson in “Dicks: The Musical” (Photo by Justin Lubin/A24)

“Dicks: The Musical” isn’t as clever and funny as it thinks it is. A better movie would have been about Megan Thee Stallion’s scene-stealing Gloria Masters character. The film makes a terrible pivot into glorifying the crime of incest. Incest is never okay. Worst of all, this abrupt change into an incest story is unnecessary and reeks of a desperate way to create shock value as a gimmick, not because it makes sense to the story.

Directed by Larry Charles, “Dicks: The Musical” is based on the stage show “Fucking Identical Twins,” which was the original title of the movie before it was changed to a title that’s more marketable and less offensive. Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson (two alumni of the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade) are the writers and title characters of “Fucking Identical Twins,” which started out as an Upright Citizens Brigade sketch. Sharp and Jackson are also the writers and stars of “Dicks: The Musical.”

You can tell that “Dicks: The Musical” is based on a comedy sketch, because the very flimsy and simplistic plot gets repetitive and dull in too many sections, in order to fill up the time for a feature-length movie. There are only a few standout musical moments. Most of the songs are trite and forgettable. Jackson, Sharp and Karl Saint Lucy co-wrote the songs, with Marius de Vries (the producer of the movie’s soundtrack) also sharing co-songwriting credit on some of the tunes. “Dicks: The Musical” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

The identical twins at the center of the story are Craig Tittle (played by Sharp) and Trevor Brock (played by Jackson), two hard-driving, very competitive and extremely rude salesmen. In the very beginning of the movie, bachelors Craig and Trevor have known each other for a while but have no idea that they are brothers. The “joke” is that Craig and Trevor don’t look identical at all.

Craig (the uptight brother) and Trevor (the flamboyant brother) work for the same vacuum company and are fierce rivals at their job, which rewards the employee with the highest sales revenue. Craig and Trevor also happen to live next door to each other in New York City. The story is narrated by God (played by Bowen Yang), who is portrayed as a sarcastic gossipper who sees and knows everything.

Trevor and Craig both consider themselves to be politically conservative “alpha males” who are the best at everything they do. They are also homophobic and sexist, because they think heterosexual, cisgender men are superior to everyone else. How awful are Craig and Trevor? They’re nasty to pregnant women and don’t hesitate to do things like push a pregnant woman out of the way if she’s hailing the same taxi.

Craig was raised by a single father. Trevor was raised by a single mother. Through a series of events, Craig and Trevor find out that they are long-lost identical twins whose parents divorced when Craig and Trevor were too young to remember their parents being married. Craig and Trevor’s parents cut each other out of their lives completely after the divorce and did not make themselves known to whichever twin son wasn’t in their custody. Craig and Trevor were raised to be believe that whichever parent raised them was widowed.

Trevor and Craig think there’s a social stigma if their parents are divorced. Craig and Trevor agree to temporarily put aside their brotherly feuding, in order to reunite their parents, with the hope that their parents will remarry. (The filmmakers of “Dicks: The Musical” openly acknowledge that “The Parent Trap” is an inspiration for this part of the story.) Craig and Trevor decide to disguise themselves as each other when they visit whichever parent didn’t raise them.

When Craig (disguised as Trevor) meets his mother Evelyn (played by Megan Mullally) for the first time, he finds out that she’s a lisping eccentric who lives alone and doesn’t have a vagina, because the vagina has separated from her body and can fly like a bird. (Evelyn’s flying vagina is used as a sight gag multiple times in the movie.) When Trevor (disguised as Craig) meets his father Harris (played by Nathan Lane) for the first time, he finds out that Harris has been living alone as a gay man.

Harris has two pet creatures in a cage called the Sewer Boys, who are about the size of squirrels and are described in the movie’s production notes as coming from “the bowels of New York’s septic system” and looking like “rat demons.” The Sewer Boys (who can stand up and have human-like hands) don’t speak human languages but mostly grunt, mumble and hiss. One is named Backpack (voiced by Tom Kenny), and the other is named Whisper (voiced by Frank Todaro), but their personalities are indistinguishable from each other.

Just like a bird parent, Harris feeds the Sewer Boys with food that he chews in his mouth and spits into their mouths. (Harris usually misses the mouth target.) It’s a sight gag that’s over-used and yet another example of how this movie runs ideas into the ground with too much repetition. The rest of “Dicks: The Musical” is an occasionally hyper but mostly empty tottering of weak nonsense, where each scene tries to outdo the previous scene by becoming increasingly bizarre. The problem is that not much of it is very amusing.

Gloria is the vulgar-talking, crude-thinking, ultra-feminist supervisor of Craig and Trevor. She likes to pit employees aganst each other and only cares about two things in her job: bossing people around (sometimes with physical violence) and making as much money as possible for the company with her sales team. One of the few highlights of “Dicks: The Musical” is Gloria’s solo musical number “Out Alpha the Alpha,” which is hilarious in its filthy adult language as much as it is well-choreographed.

Gloria and God are two of the most interesting characters in the movie, but they get less than 15 minutes of screen time each in this 86-minute movie. Evelyn and Harris are also much more entertaining than their sons Craig and Trevor. Mullally and Lane portray these parental characters with a lot of gusto, but the dialogue and songs written for them become irritating after a while. (Mullally’s husband Nick Offerman has a cameo in the movie as a politically conservative activist named Steve Chaney.) Viewers are mostly stuck watching the witless and boring antics of one-dimensional Craig and Trevor, as they occasionally warble mediocre musical songs.

“Dicks: The Musical” is clearly a case of two guys who created hollow characters for themselves and then surrounded these characters with silly distractions that they want to pass off as a “movie plot” and fool people into thinking that it’s “edgy” comedy. Foul language or provocative topics can be part of comedy that pushes boundaries. But when a movie tries to push the idea (such as in the horrendous closing song “All Love Is Love”) that something is wrong with you if you don’t celebrate incest and bestiality, then it has crossed the point of no return into being pretentious garbage.

A24 released “Dicks: The Musical” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on October 20, 2023. A sing-along version of “Dicks: The Musical” will have a one-week release in U.S. cinemas on October 27, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on November 10, 2023.

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