Review: ‘The Beatles: Get Back,’ starring Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr

November 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison in “The Beatles: Get Back” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

“The Beatles: Get Back”

Directed by Peter Jackson

Culture Representation: Taking place in London in January 1969, the three-part documentary series “The Beatles: Get Back” features a predominantly white and mostly British group of people (with one Japanese person and one African American person) representing the middle-class and wealthy in this chronicle of the beginning of the Beatles’ last recording sessions, as well as the Beatles’ last live public performance.

Culture Clash: Before the band broke up in 1970, the Beatles had internal struggles and disagreements over who would lead the band and how each member’s talent and contributions were valued within the group.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Beatles fans, “The Beatles: Get Back” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of 1960s rock music who want detailed observations of what music studio sessions looked like at the time.

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in “The Beatles: Get Back” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

The three-episode official Beatles docuseries “The Beatles: Get Back” gives Beatles fans more than enough of what they might be looking for in this intimate chronicle of the band’s recording sessions and rehearsals in London in January 1969. “The Beatles: Get Back” (directed by Peter Jackson) expands on the footage that was in director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 Beatles documentary “Let It Be,” which is no longer officially distributed but has been widely bootlegged. “The Beatles: Get Back” is the docuseries for you, if you’re the type of music fan who relishes seeing several different rehearsal snippets of the same Beatles songs that mostly ended up on the band’s 1969 “Abbey Road” album and 1970 “Let It Be” album. If you have absolutely no interest in watching the Beatles in a recording/rehearsal studio, then you might be bored and might not be able to finish watching this documentary.

That’s because most of the footage in this 468-minute docuseries (that’s 7.8 hours) takes place at recording/rehearsal studios: Twickenham and Apple Corps, to be exact. (Apple Corps is the London-based entertainment company founded by the Beatles in 1967, and is not to be confused with the California-based computer technology company Apple Inc. that was co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976.) The docuseries culminates with the Beatles performing a brief surprise concert on the rooftop of Apple Corps headquarters, which would end up being the band’s last live public performance. A great deal of the docuseries shows the repetitive nature of doing takes and re-takes of songs in the studio. In that regard, “The Beatles: Let It Be” could have used tighter editing to keep the interest of people with short attention spans.

The vast majority of the docuseries footage is within the confines of a studio. But what happens in that studio is pure magic for people who want to see how the Beatles crafted many of their songs from this period of time. There’s plenty of footage of the band’s personal interactions, but it’s only in the context of this work environment.

And that’s why the docuseries will appeal most to die-hard Beatles fans, who aren’t going to mind that this documentary’s cameras didn’t follow Beatles members Paul McCartney (bass guitar), John Lennon (rhythm guitar), George Harrison (lead guitar) and Ringo Starr (drums) outside of the studio to show what they were like outside of work. People who want to see more controversy in this documentary will be disappointed. However, the filmmakers made the decision not take the tabloid route, so that the documentary would remain focused mainly on the Beatles’ music.

“The Beatles: Get Back” is an insightful look at the band dynamics that foreshadowed why the Beatles broke up in 1970, but the documentary also shows the special chemistry and camaraderie that the Beatles had together. People who know Beatles history are the ones who will have the most appreciation of this deep-dive look into these recording/rehearsal sessions. After all, how many times does someone need to see the different ways that Beatles songs such as “Get Back,” “The Long and Winding Road” or “Don’t Let Me Down” were recorded or rehearsed? Die-hard fans will tolerate this type of repetition the most. The documentary also shows that the Beatles spent a lot of time in the studio performing cover songs for fun.

At the time this documentary footage was filmed, the idea was to record the next Beatles album live in the studio and make a documentary about it. (“Abbey Road” was actually recorded after the “Let It Be” album, but “Abbey Road” was released first.) The band also planned to do a live concert as a TV special. Lindsay-Hogg was the director hired for the documentary and the TV special, with the entire project tentatively called “Get Back,” named after one of the hit songs that would be on the “Let It Be” album. A big problem was that with less than three weeks before the concert was to take place, the band still couldn’t agree/decide on where the concert should be.

In the docuseries, band members have disagreements with each other, but no one has screaming arguments or destroys instruments in anger. Yoko Ono (an avant-garde artist who was Lennon’s girlfriend at the time and became his wife in March 1969) is not seen pitting Lennon and McCartney against each other, and she doesn’t try to tell the band what to do. In other words, this not the Beatles version of “This Is Spinal Tap.” That might come as a surprise to people who have come to expect drama akin to a soap opera in behind-the-scenes music documentaries about rock bands on the verge of splitting up.

And so, people looking for that type of turmoil won’t find it in “The Beatles: Get Back,” whose producers include McCartney, Ono (Lennon’s widow), Olivia Harrison (George Harrison’s widow), Starr and Jackson. The documentary does show how George Harrison briefly quit the Beatles, but his departure is not the disaster it could have been. That’s mainly because the other band members carry on with their work, as if they know deep down that Harrison will change his mind and come back less than a week later. (And that’s exactly what happened.)

Harrison’s temporary split from the Beatles was not made public at the time. This abrupt departure of someone from the most famous band in the world would be harder to keep a secret in today’s celebrity news environment, where this type of news would spread quickly on the Internet. It’s a testament to how the Beatles employees and associates who knew about Harrison quitting back then were discreet enough to not leak this information.

There’s so much to delve into “The Beatles: Get Back” because each episode of the series is longer than the average episode of a docuseries. Episode One is 157 minutes. Episode Two is 173 minutes. Episode Three is 138 minutes. “The Beatles: Get Back” director Jackson (who is a Beatles superfan) and his team lovingly restored the footage that was originally directed by Lindsay-Hogg.

Over the 21 days that Lindsay-Hogg and his team documented the Beatles in January 1969, there were about 60 hours of filmed footage and about 120 hours of audio recordings that ended up being edited for “The Beatles: Get Back” docuseries. The results are footage and audio that look and sound clear and crisp. The songs performed in the studio sessions have quick-cut editing in the docuseries. It’s as if the filmmakers don’t want the entire performance of each song to be seen, in anticipation of the Beatles’ rooftop concert. On-screen captions indicate which takes of these songs ended up on a Beatles album.

It’s explained in the beginning of the series that the Beatles had the daunting task of writing and rehearsing 14 new songs within a two-week period, in order for them to make the deadline for the TV concert. The Beatles didn’t agree on everything, but they all agreed that if this concert was going to happen, it wouldn’t be to play their old hits. They wanted it to be a showcase for their new songs. For recordings and rehearsals, they started off at Twickenham Studios for the first eight days, and then spent the remaining 13 days at Apple Studios.

Here’s a summary of the highlights from each episode:

Episode One

(Days 1 to 7)

John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in “The Beatles: Get Back” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

The episode begins with a brief chronological history of the Beatles, leading up to January 1969. At this point in the Beatles’ career, the band members were managing themselves, ever since Beatles manager Brian Epstein died of a sedative overdose in 1967, at the age of 32. McCartney is clearly the band member in charge, but disagreements over who should be the band’s next official manager were among the big reasons why the band broke up. Beatles fans will notice in this docuseries that these tensions were brewing and an indication of trouble to come. More on that later.

Even though Epstein wasn’t much older than the Beatles, certain band members still refer to him as “Mr. Epstein” and describe him as a father figure who was the one who kept them disciplined and taught them a certain work ethic as a band. With Epstein gone, McCartney has tried to step into the role of a leader who expects everyone to be their best and show up on time. But it’s how McCartney handles that leadership role that causes friction with other members of the group, especially Harrison and Lennon.

Lennon and McCartney co-wrote most of the songs that ended up on Beatles albums. If McCartney wrote most of a Lennon/McCartney song, McCartney was the one who sang lead vocals. If Lennon wrote most of a Lennon/McCartney song, Lennon was the one who sang lead vocals. Harrison would write Beatles songs on his own and sing lead vocals on them, but his songs were very much in the minority on Beatles albums. On rare occasions, Starr (whose real name is Richard Starkey) got a songwriting credit and lead vocals on a Beatles song.

This is the type of Beatles history that is not explained in the docuseries. However, people who are unfamiliar with the Beatles can discern these group dynamics when watching this docuseries, because every time a song is performed, the song’s title and the last name(s) of the songwriter(s) are listed on the screen. Even people with scarce knowledge of the Beatles have some idea that the Lennon/McCartney songwriting duo was the dominant songwriting partnership in the Beatles.

Although early in the Beatles’ career, Harrison was nicknamed in the media as “The Quiet Beatle,” Starr was actually the quietest member of the Beatles at this point in 1969. He’s often seen silently observing (and sometimes napping) while the other members of the band hash out some of their differences. He’s also the most easygoing member of the Beatles and the one most likely to want to keep the peace. It’s probably why the Beatles chose Starr’s home as the place for the Beatles to meet with Harrison after he abruptly quit the group.

McCartney is either motivational or bossy, depending on your perspective. He’s the one most likely to have big ambitions for the Beatles. He repeats throughout the documentary that he doesn’t just want to do albums. He wants the Beatles’ music to serve a bigger purpose and have more visual documentation of their art, such as filming the recording of the album.

Lennon is the sarcastic joker of the group. After recently getting involved in an intense love affair with Ono, he is shown as becoming less interested in arriving on time for band meetings and studio sessions. Lennon and Harrison are the Beatles members who are most likely to be tardy in these studio sessions.

Ono is never far from Lennon during most of these sessions, where she often sits next to him as if she’s also a member of the band. She doesn’t talk much, but her influence over Lennon is obvious, since she’s the only woman who’s allowed to join in and contribute vocals with the Beatles when they’re writing and recording. She doesn’t sing. The sound that comes out of her mouth is more like screeching or caterwauling.

During the first days of these sessions, Harrison seems motivated and greets people warmly. Harrison and Starr say “Happy New Year” to each other the first time that the band meets for these sessions. In another scene, Harrison compliments McCartney by saying of McCartney’s newly grown facial hair: “I think the beard suits you, man.” But as time goes on, Harrison looks both emotionally alienated and exasperated. And it’s not just because McCartney is telling Harrison how he wants Harrison’s guitar playing to sound.

It’s also because Harrison can see that, once again, most of his song ideas are being ignored. At this point in Harrison’s life, he was deep into Hare Krishna spirituality. It shows in the documentary, because a few of Harrison’s Hare Krishna friends/hangers-on, including two named Shyamsunder Das and Mukanda Goswami, are seen occasionally sitting cross-legged in the background, looking zoned-out or meditative.

For the concert TV special, McCartney was keen for the Beatles to perform a live concert again for the first time in three years (the Beatles quit touring in 1966), but he doesn’t want the band to perform in a typical and predictable setting. It’s here that McCartney tries to assert his leadership because he comes up with the idea that the Beatles should do a surprise concert at a place where they could get arrested. He half-jokingly suggests that the Beatles perform at the House of Parliament, where the band would undoubtedly be ejected. “You have to take a bit of violence,” McCartney says of his idea to do a guerilla-styled concert.

Lindsay-Hogg hates the idea. “I think it’s too dangerous. You could go back to Manila,” he says. It’s a reference to the Beatles’ harrowing 1966 experience of facing a group of angry citizens who aggressively manhandled the Beatles for skipping a meeting with Imelda Marcos, the wife of then-Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos. Lindsay-Hogg is fixated on an idea to have the Beatles perform at an open-air amphitheatre in the desert of Subrata, Libya. (It’s a terrible idea because of the difficult logistics involved. The ancient amphitheatre was not built for a 1969 rock concert that would require a lot of electrical wiring.)

Lindsay-Hogg also suggests that maybe the Beatles could perform at orphanages. He appeals to Harrison’s charitable side by trying to get him to agree to a charity concert. “They say charity begins at home,” Harrison quips. McCartney responds by joking that they should have the concert at Harrison’s house.

Film producer Denis O’Dell pushes for the Beatles to do the concert on some type of ship or boat. However, practical-minded Harrison says that this idea is “insane,” because the acoustics would be substandard and the production costs would be too high. Harrison mentions the Beatles’ widely panned 1967 TV special “Magical Mystery Tour” as an example of an expensive mistake. Lennon doesn’t seem to care where the Beatles play, while Starr says almost nothing at all when it comes to ideas or suggestions.

It’s in this docuseries’ first episode that viewers are also introduced to many of the key crew members who were part of the Beatles’ inner circle for this documentary. There’s Lindsay-Hogg, an American-Irish hotshot director who talks in an upper-crust accent and is often seen puffing on a cigar. He likes to remind people that he’s a huge Beatles fan, not just a hired gun. Far from being a “yes man,” Lindsay-Hogg is very opinionated and isn’t afraid to disagree with some of the Beatles’ ideas.

Beatles music producer George Martin conducts himself with the air of a calm and dignified businessman, but he is surprisingly not in this documentary as much as people might think he would be. Instead, engineer Glyn Johns (who is most definitely not a businessman type) has the most screen time as the one who takes charge of the technical side of the recording sessions. Other staffers and associates who are seen in the documentary, beginning with this episode, include Apple president Neil Aspinall, music publisher Dick James, roadie/personal assistant Mal Evans, roadie Kevin Harrington, cinematographer Tony Richmond, camera operator Les Parrott, song recordist Peter Sutton and electronic engineer Alexis “Magic Alex” Mardas.

Harrison is the first one the documentary to mention that the Beatles should break up. “Maybe we should have a divorce,” Harrison tells the other Beatles. Lennon quips, “Who would have the children?” McCartney jokes, “Dick James.” McCartney’s comment refers to how, at the time, James (through his Northern Songs Ltd. publishing company) owned the copyrights to Beatles songs written by Lennon and McCartney. Later in 1969, James sold Northern Songs to Associated Television (ATV) without telling Lennon and McCartney in advance. The battle to own the Beatles’ song publishing could be its own documentary.

Starr’s wife Maureen Starkey makes a brief appearance. Just like the other women in this documentary, she doesn’t say much. The episode ends with Harrison getting up and announcing he’s leaving the band. Lennon says that if Harrison doesn’t come back in a few days, the Beatles should get Eric Clapton as a replacement. (Clapton was Harrison’s best friend at the time.) An episode epilogue caption says that the attempted reconciliation with Harrison at Starr’s house did not go very well.

What the documentary doesn’t mention is that Starr’s wife Maureen Starkey and Harrison were having an affair at the time, according to several books about the Beatles. Meanwhile, Clapton was in love with Harrison’s wife Pattie (Clapton wrote the 1971 song “Layla” about her), and she would eventually leave Harrison in 1977 for Clapton, who became her second husband two years later. If this is the type of love triangle drama that people wanted to see in this documentary, you’re not going to find it.

Episode Two

(Days 8 to 16)

Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon in “The Beatles: Get Back” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

As we all know, Harrison eventually did come back to the Beatles, as seen in this episode. During his absence, the other band members have a bittersweet laugh when a bouquet of flowers arrives for Harrison at the studio. Starr opens the greeting card and sees that the flowers are from a Hare Krishna group that obviously doesn’t know that Harrison had recently quit the band.

But the most intriguing part of the episode is that McCartney starts to get real about the band’s problems. The documentary mentions that a hidden microphone was placed in a flower pot to capture a conversation between Lennon and McCartney over Harrison’s unhappiness in the Beatles. This secret recording was clearly the filmmakers’ attempt to find out McCartney’s true feelings, since he was the band member who tended to be the most image-conscious and careful about what he said on camera.

In this undercover conversation, Lennon says of Harrison’s discontent: “It’s a festering wound that we’ve allowed … and we didn’t give him any bandages. We have egos.” McCartney says of Harrison’s concerns: “I do think he’s right.” McCartney also tries to appeal to Lennon’s ego by saying that the Beatles will always be Lennon’s band.

Through his actions and words in this documentary, McCartney seems to want to give the impression that he’s stepping up in a leadership role because no one else in the Beatles wants to do it. The problem, which has also been documented in several books about the Beatles, is that the other members of the group get frustrated when McCartney acts like his ideas are usually the best ideas. Harrison isn’t the only one who’s starting to drift away and feel alienated.

In another part of the episode, when McCartney knows that he’s being filmed, he says to a group of people (including Eastman and Starr) that Lennon is losing interest in the Beatles. If Lennon had to choose between the Beatles or Ono, McCartney predicts: “Obviously, if it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko.” McCartney also says that he and Lennon are spending less time writing songs together because their lifestyles have changed. He mentions that because the Beatles weren’t touring, he and Lennon weren’t spending time together in hotel rooms, where Lennon and McCartney would get a lot of songwriting done.

New romances were affecting the Lennon/McCartney friendship. Linda Eastman, a photographer from New York, had recently begun dating McCartney and would become his wife in March 1969. Eastman is in the documentary as a laid-back presence, who occasionally takes photos and snuggles with McCartney. During a band meeting where they discuss Harrison quitting the group, Eastman pipes up that she noticed that at the reconciliation attempt at Starr’s house, Ono seemed to be talking for Lennon instead of Lennon talking for himself.

The documentary doesn’t give a lot of evidence to support a lingering perception among some Beatles fans that Ono is mainly to blame for breaking up the Beatles. She doesn’t talk much when she’s with the Beatles in these studio sessions. On the rare occasions that she smiles, it’s when she gazes lovingly at Lennon or shows other public displays of affection with him. She’s shown as not being particularly close to anyone in the Beatles’ inner circle except for Lennon. McCartney says prophetically, “It’s going to be such an incredible, comical thing, like in 50 years’ time [people will say], ‘They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.'”

Still, there’s no denying that there’s unspoken tension between McCartney and Ono. During a group discussion, McCartney talks about how he still wants the Beatles to be on the top of their game in the documentary. “We want to show the world what we have,” McCartney says. Ono chimes in, “Or what we haven’t.”

The reality seems to be sinking in with McCartney that he and his longtime pal Lennon are going in different directions with their lives. McCartney seems to want to hold on to an idea that the Beatles can continue, but only if they agree with his wish that they don’t do anything in a boring and predictable way. Meanwhile, a frustrated Harrison seems like he wants to be a solo artist, whether the other band members approve or not. As for Starr, he just seems to want to know if he has a job and where to show up. When McCartney half-jokingly suggests that the Beatles should announce their breakup at the end of their upcoming concert, Starr reacts with a mortified look on his face that’s priceless.

In between all of this interpersonal drama, the Beatles are still capable of working together in a respectful and cohesive manner as musicians in a studio. Harrison starts to become more jovial, while Lennon cracks jokes to lighten the mood. After Harrison comes back to the band, McCartney seems more mindful of how he gives suggestions to Harrison, in order to avoid looking like an overly critical taskmaster.

McCartney also mentions to his bandmates that he has personal film footage of the time that the Beatles spent at a 1967 retreat with the spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was exposed years later as a con artist. McCartney vividly describes scenes from this footage, some of which are shown in the documentary. Lennon and McCartney have a laugh when McCartney comments on the retreat, “You can see from the film that it’s very much like school.”

Harrison’s wife Pattie appears very briefly in this episode when she visits the studio. Out of all of the Beatles’ significant others at the time, she’s the one who is seen the least in the documentary. Pattie was busy with her modeling career at the time, but she and other people have since revealed that her marriage to Harrison was in deep trouble in 1969, because of the love triangle with Clapton.

A great scene in this episode is when comedian/actor Peter Sellers (who was Starr’s co-star in the 1969 movie “The Magic Christian”) stops by for a visit. It’s the first time that Sellers has met the members of the band, other than Starr. Sellers is quiet and bashful. Some viewers might speculate that he seems a little star-struck by the Beatles. He also seems a little bored, because he doesn’t stay for long. Maybe he thought being in a recording studio with the Beatles would be one big party.

In this encounter with Sellers, Lennon proves to be a lot funnier than world-famous comedian Sellers. As Sellers says a “nice to meet you” goodbye to the group, Lennon makes a drug joke when he says to Sellers: “Just don’t leave the needles lying around.” Everyone in the room laughs, except for Sellers, who seems a little taken aback by this joke and that someone can get bigger laughs than he usually does.

Speaking of drug references, there are some noticeable ones in this episode. Lennon shows up late at the studio one day, and he says it’s because he stayed up all night while he was on drugs. “I was stoned and high and watching films,” Lennon confesses. McCartney, ever aware of the Beatles’ image, looks slightly alarmed, knowing that Lennon was caught on camera with this comment. McCartney responds, “Is there a need to do this in public, Mr. Lennon?”

Earlier in the episode, Starr is seen on camera asking personal assistant Evans, “Do you have any pep pills?” And the band’s goofiest antics and loopiest comments in this episode and the other episodes in the docuseries could be interpreted as actions of people under the influence of unnamed substances. At any rate, no one actually says out loud which illegal drugs might have been consumed. The Beatles are seen smoking a lot of cigarettes and drinking alcohol (usually wine or beer) during these sessions. Even if illegal drug taking had been caught on camera, it wouldn’t have made the final cut in a Disney+ documentary.

This episode shows how image-conscious the Beatles were, since there are multiple scenes of them reading articles about themselves in newspapers and magazines and making comments about what they see in this media coverage. Harrison is irked by a Daily Mail article written by Michael Housegro, in which Housegro claims that Lennon and Harrison got into a fist fight and that the Beatles are on the verge of breaking up.

Housegro was wrong about the fist fight, and Harrison asks someone in the room if the Beatles can sue over the article. The answer is no. Harrison and Lennon have a bit of a laugh over it though, and pretend to get in a fist fight when the article is read out loud. Later, McCartney reads the article out loud in a very sing-song, sarcastic manner while plugged into a microphone and pretending that article’s words are lyrics to a song.

The Beatles move their recording/rehearsal sessions to Apple when their scheduled time at Twickenham comes to an end. When they begin working at Apple, it’s the first time that the documentary shows life outside the studio bubble. The members of the band show up in separate cars and walk inside without any bodyguards or entourages. If there were any paparazzi photographers lurking about, they’re not shown in this documentary.

It’s in this episode that Apple Scruffs (the nickname for the female fans who would wait outside Apple headquarters to get a glimpse of the Beatles) are first seen. Two Apple Scruffs named Eileen Kensles and Sue Ahearne are interviewed. They both say that what they want most for the Beatles to do next is to perform a live concert.

At Apple headquarters, Magic Alex had constructed a custom-built studio for the Beatles. However, the band discovers that ths custom studio equipment has too much distortion. Beatles producer Martin comes to the rescue by letting the Beatles use some equipment that he had, thereby diverting a major setback.

Things get livelier when keyboardist Billy Preston joins the sessions. His enthusiasm and talent seem to lift the Beatles’ spirits. McCartney briefly considers eventually making Preston a permanent member of the Beatles, but McCartney ends up nixing the idea. “It’s bad enough with four [members of the band],” McCartney comments.

And if you didn’t already know that “Get Back” was originally going to be a protest song against white nationalism, anti-immigrant racism and xenophobia, then you’ll find out what were some of the lyrics that McCartney originally wanted for the song. “Get Back” eventually evolved into a non-political song, but it’s interesting to see the thought process that went into the crafting of this song. At this point in his career, McCartney avoided making overt political statements in his songs, so his original intention for “Get Back” would have been a major departure for him.

Another song that went through a metamorphosis was Lennon’s “The Road to Marrakesh.” Never heard of it? That’s because the docuseries shows in this episode that “The Road to Marrakesh” was an early version of “Jealous Guy,” a song that would end up on Lennon’s 1971 solo album “Imagine.” The song’s melodies essentially remained the same, but the lyrics became very different when the song morphed into “Jealous Guy.”

Making brief appearances in this episode are photographer Ethan Russell (the cover of the “Let It Be” album features his photos), Apple executive Peter Brown and art dealer Robert Fraser. Brown and author Steven Gaines would later write the unauthorized Beatles tell-all book “The Love You Make: An Insider Story of the Beatles,” which was published in 1983. It’s considered one of the first exposés of the Beatles in-fighting that went on behind the scenes.

Lindsay-Hogg was also the director of the concert TV special “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” which featured Lennon and Ono among the guest performers. Lindsay-Hogg is seen asking Lennon if he wants to be a guest on this TV special, and Lennon readily agrees. It’s because of “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” that Lennon came into contact with Allen Klein, who was the Rolling Stones’ manager at the time.

Klein was a controversial figure in the histories of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. By all accounts, he desperately wanted to manage the Beatles. Klein does not make an appearance in “The Beatles: Get Back” docuseries, but it clearly shows through Lennon’s descriptions of Klein how Klein began to woo and charm his way into the Beatles’ lives.

In this episode, the idea to have a live TV concert is scrapped. And it comes as no surprise, because the band was never ready to do a live TV show with just two weeks of preparation. However, McCartney still wants the Beatles to perform their new songs live somewhere and having it filmed. Lindsay-Hogg and Johns suggest doing a surprise show without a permit on the rooftop of Apple Corps, thereby making McCartney’s idea to have a guerilla-styled Beatles concert become a reality.

Episode Three

(Days 17 to 21)

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in “The Beatles: Get Back” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

Considering the internal problems that the Beatles were experiencing at the time, you would think that this strife would get worse as this docuseries goes on. In fact, this last episode is the most light-hearted of the three. One of the main reasons why it has so many laugh-out-loud moments is because of how it shows people’s various reactions to the Beatles’ surprise rooftop concert. The Beatles also seem more relaxed with each other, compared to previous days of the sessions.

During the rooftop concert, people are interviewed on the street by members of the film crew. Reactions are mostly positive. One middle-aged man says of the free concert: “It’s nice to have something for free in this country at the moment.”

Meanwhile, the complainers look like out-of-touch grouches in retrospect. One young man snarls angrily that the roof is “a bloody stupid place to have a concert.” An elderly woman is infuriated when she comments on the Beatles doing a free show on a rooftop: “I don’t see how it makes sense! It woke me up from my sleep, and I don’t like it!”

There’s also a very Keystone Kops moment when two young police officers are the first cops to respond to the noise complaints caused by the concert. One of the cops wants to take charge, but it’s obvious that he’s reluctant to arrest anyone in the Beatles. He does a lot of huffing and puffing and says this empty threat: “We’ve got 30 complaints within minutes … Turn it [the volume] down, or I’m going to have to start arresting people!” Meanwhile, the agitated cop’s partner barely says a word. You can tell that these reactions were not scripted, which makes everything even more hilarious.

Earlier in this episode, Eastman’s then-6-year-old daughter Heather (from Eastman’s first marriage) is shown being an adorable and happy kid in the studio. She brings a lot of joy to the people around her. McCartney treats her like a doting father (he bounces her up in the air and hugs her a lot), while the other Beatles (especially Lennon and Starr) are friendly and attentive to Heather. She’s talkative, curious, and is allowed to run around and play in the studio. When Heather sees Ono shrieking in a microphone, Heather starts to do that too. Lennon reponds to Heather’s vocal imitations by saying jokingly: “Yoko!”

Heather isn’t the only one acting goofy in the studio. A scene in this episode shows Starr, McCartney, Martin and Lindsay-Hogg appearing to have a serious conversation. Suddenly, Starr blurts out: “I’ve farted. I thought I’d let you know.”

Some Beatles associates featured in this episode include tape operator (and future artist/producer) Alan Parsons, sound engineer Keith Slaughter, Apple press officer Sally Burgess, producer/engineer Chris Thomas, Paul McCartney’s younger brother Mike McCartney, Apple office doorman Jimmy Clark and Apple office receptionist Debbie Wellum. When the cops show up during the Beatles’ rooftop concert, Wellum does a brilliant job of acting ignorant in stalling the cops as long as possible from going up to the roof.

But problems in the Beatles remain. While planning the rooftop concert, Paul McCartney is enthusiastic about it, while Harrison says irritably: “I don’t want to go on the roof.” Starr and Lennon chime in and both say consecutively: “I would like to go on the roof.” And with those statements, Harrison is outnumbered, and he seems to stop complaining about having to do this rooftop concert. However, Harrison still voices his dislike of the idea that the Beatles should continue to do films. It’s the opposite of how McCartney feels.

At this point in the Beatles’ history, Harrison is openly discussing taking his rejected Beatles songs and making a solo album out of it. He talks about it with Lennon and Ono, who tells Harrison that she thinks the solo album is a good idea. Meanwhile, Harrison is seen helping Starr come up with some ideas to finish Starr’s song “Octopus’s Garden,” which ended up on the “Abbey Road” album. It’s an example of how underrated Harrison was as a songwriter for the Beatles, because Starr (under his real name, Richard Starkey) is the only credited songwriter for “Octopus’s Garden.” This documentary clearly shows that Harrison co-wrote the song.

In this episode, Harrison talks about trying to finish a song that would become one of his most beloved ballads: “Something,” an “Abbey Road” hit single that was inspired by his then-wife Pattie. The first line of the song ended up being: “Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover.” But the documentary shows that Harrison had difficulty coming up with that first line.

Harrison considered using the phrase “attracts me like a Cadillac” or “attracts me like a pomegranate.” Lennon advises Harrison to just write what naturally comes to mind. “The Beatles: Get Back” is superb when it has this type of camaradie moment that shows a glimpse into how a classic Beatles song was written.

Lennon is in mostly a good mood during these final days of filming the documentary. He announces jubilantly that Ono’s divorce from her second husband Anthony “Tony” Cox has become final. (Lennon had already offically divorced his first wife Cynthia in November 1968.) Lennon is also seen praising Klein.

“I think he’s fantastic!” Lennon gushes to Harrison about Klein. “He knows everything about everything! He knows what we’re like. He knows me as well as you do!” The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were both signed to EMI Records at the time. Lennon also says he’s impressed that Klein was able to get an EMI royalty rate for the Rolling Stones that’s higher than the Beatles’ royalty rate, so Lennon wants Klein to do the same for the Beatles.

The Beatles have ther first meeting with Klein in this episode, but the meeting was not filmed for the documentary. In a voiceover, Johns is heard expressing cautious skepticism about Klein: “He’s a strange man, but very, very clever.” Johns also describes Klein’s habit of abruptly changing the subject in a conversation if someone says something that Klein doesn’t want to hear. “That bugs me a bit, actually,” adds Johns of Klein’s rudeness.

Harrison and Starr seem noncommittal about Klein at this point. However, people who watch this documentary should observe the expression on McCartney’s face when Klein’s name is mentioned by Lennon. Beatles fans now know that McCartney had already been planning to have Linda Eastman’s attorney father Lee Eastman take over management duties for the Beatles. McCartney is clearly concerned (and probably annoyed) that Lennon could persuade the other members of the band to want to hire Klein as the manager of the Beatles.

It’s a red flag of the management disagreements that would end up being a huge part of the Beatles’ breakup. But the docuseries ends in the best possible way, by showing the rooftop concert that would be the last time that the Beatles would ever perform together in public. (All of the Beatles’ wives/girlfriends are there except for Harrison’s.)

For the rooftop concert, the documentary shows the band performing “Get Back” (twice, but not consecutively), “Don’t Let Me Down” (twice, but not consecutively), “One After 909,” “Dig a Pony” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” All these years later, the Beatles are still considered by many people to be the greatest rock band of all time. “The Beatles: Get Back” is a densely layered exploration into their artistic side, but it admirably never loses sight of the Beatles’ human side.

Here are the songs that are featured in “The Beatles Get Back” docuseries:

Beatles-Written Songs (for the Beatles or for Solo Material) Performed as Excerpts

In alphabetical order:

  • “Across the Universe”
  • “All Things Must Pass”
  • “Another Day”
  • “The Back Seat of My Car”
  • “Because I Know You Love Me So”
  • “Bonding”
  • “Carry That Weight”
  • “Castle of the King of the Birds”
  • “Commonwealth”
  • “Dehra Dun”
  • “Dig a Pony”
  • “Dig It”
  • “Don’t Let Me Down”
  • “Every Little Thing”
  • “Fancy My Chances With You”
  • “For You Blue”
  • “Get Back”
  • “Gimme Some Truth”
  • “Golden Slumbers”
  • “Half a Pound of Greasepaint”
  • “Help”
  • “Her Majesty”
  • “I Bought a Piano the Other Day”
  • “I Lost My Little Girl”
  • “I Me Mine”
  • “I’m So Tired”
  • “Isn’t It a Pity”
  • “I Told You Before”
  • “I’ve Got a Feeling”
  • “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
  • “Just Fun”
  • “Let It Be”
  • “The Long and Winding Road”
  • “Love Me Do”
  • “Madmen”
  • “Martha My Dear”
  • “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
  • “Mean Mr. Mustard”
  • “My Imagination”
  • “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
  • “Octopus’s Garden”
  • “Oh! Darling”
  • “Old Brown Shoe”
  • “One After 909”
  • “On the Road to Marrakesh” (which later became “Jealous Guy”)
  • “Please Please Me”
  • “Polythene Pam”
  • “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
  • “Song of Love”
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever”
  • “Suzy Parker”
  • “Teddy Boy”
  • “Too Bad About Sorrow”
  • “Two of Us”
  • “What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?”
  • “Within You, Without You”
  • “You Wear Your Women Out”

Cover Songs Performed as Excerpts

In alphabetical order:

  • “Act Naturally”
  • “Blue Suede Shoes”
  • “Bye Bye Love”
  • “Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer”
  • “Going Up the Country”
  • “Hallelujah I Love Her So”
  • “Hi-Heel Sneakers”
  • “Honey Hush”
  • “House of the Rising Sun”
  • “Johnny B. Goode”
  • “Kansas City”
  • “The Midnight Special”
  • “The Mighty Quinn”
  • “Miss Ann”
  • “New Orleans”
  • “Queen of the Hop”
  • “Rock and Roll Music”
  • “Save the Last Dance for Me”
  • “School Days”
  • “Shake, Rattle and Roll”
  • “Stand By Me”
  • “Take These Chains From My Heart”
  • “Twenty Flight Rock”

Disney+ premieres each of the three episodes of “The Beatles: Get Back” on November 25, November 26 and November 27, 2021.

Review: ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ (2021), starring Con O’Neill and Sarah-Jane Potts

October 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Con O’Neill in “Vengeance Is Mine” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Vengeance Is Mine” (2021)

Directed by Hadi Hajaig

Culture Representation: Taking place in London in 2019, the action film “Vengeance Is Mine” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few people of Indian heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An embittered middle-aged man goes after the men responsible for the hit-and-run deaths of his wife and 9-year-old daughter.

Culture Audience: “Vengeance Is Mine” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in formulaic and violent vigilante movies.

Perry Jaques, Philip Bulcock and Matt Bainbridge in “Vengeance Is Mine”

“Vengeance Is Mine” does absolutely nothing unique or creative in a story that has been recycled from the dozens of better vigilante movies that have come before it. A grieving husband/father, armed with weapons, is out for revenge. You know exactly what’s going to be in this movie as soon as you find out that this is the entire plot.

Written and directed by Hadi Hajaig, Vengeance Is Mine” not only skimps on originality, the movie also skimps on compelling conversations, since there isn’t much dialogue in this movie. “Vengeance Is Mine” is so by-the-numbers, you practically can do a countdown to the killings and when the movie’s big showdown will happen. It’s also easy to predict what will happen to the suicidal protagonist by the end of the movie. It’s the only conclusion that wouldn’t be controversial, considering all the murders he commits.

The protagonist of “Vengeance Is Mine” is down-on-his-luck Harry Kane (played by Con O’Neill), a widower in his late 40s who has been living by himself in a church’s back room in London. In exchange for free rent, Harry does maintenance work at the church. Not much is revealed about what Harry’s life was like before a traumatic tragedy changed his life forever.

It’s 2019 in this story. Five years earlier, Harry’s 43-year-old wife Elizabeth Kane (played by Annabel Wright) and their 9-year-old daughter Lucy (played by Lucy Pedrero) were killed in a hit-and-run car accident that Harry witnessed. The movie has several flashbacks to when Elizabeth and Lucy were alive, as well as to what happened in the reckless crime that took their lives.

There were several men in the car that killed Elizabeth and Lucy. Harry got a good look at all of them, but they have not been caught. He hired a private investigator named Henderson (played Ricky Grover), who has his own detective agency named after himself. The movie shows Harry glumly looking at some of the letters that Henderson has sent to Harry over the years. In the letters. Henderson says that there is nothing new to report.

Harry is so grief-stricken that an early scene in the movie shows him climbing on a high ledge at the church, with the intention to jump and commit suicide. He changes his mind and goes back to his depressing and lonely existence. Harry is essentially a bitter recluse.

Harry’s quest to find the hit-and-run criminals takes a sudden turn in August of 2019, when he gets a letter from the Henderson Detective Agency. The letter says that Henderson has information and asks Harry to meet him at a nearby cafe at a specific date and time. During this meeting, Henderson says that he heard through an informant that a man, who’s a regular at a local pub, has been bragging about causing the hit-and-run. The criminal braggart usually goes drinking at the pub on Thursdays.

Harry demands to know which pub, and Henderson reluctantly tells Harry. This detective seems to know what Harry wants to do and knows that nothing will stop Harry from doing it. Harry goes to the pub on the day that he knows he will probably see the suspect. And sure enough, Harry immediately recognizes one of the men at the pub as being one of the men who was in the car that killed Harry’s wife and daughter.

Harry notices that the man has a van parked nearby, so he quickly hides in the back of the van to find out where the man will be going after leaving the pub. (Conveniently, the back of the van was unlocked.) When the mystery man drives the van away, he goes to a run-down house in a somehwat remote area. And what do you know: Harry sees a few more men who were in the car that killed his wife and daughter.

It turns out that the men in the car are local criminals who are involved in drug dealing and robberies. The thugs, who are all in their 30s and 40s, are very generic with no backstories or discernible personalities. A few have names, such as Mark (played by Philip Bulcock), Karl (played by Perry Jaques) and Joe (played by Matt Bainbridge), while others don’t even have names. The film’s end credits list Villain 1 (played by Justin Pearson) and Villain 2 (played by Barry Green).

Harry goes home to fume and plan and his next move. Anyone who’s seen the most basic vigilante movies will know what happens next. And it does. “Vengeance Is Mine” tries to thrown in some sentimentality in the story, by giving Joe a potential love interest. Her name is Emma (played by Sarah-Jane Potts), who oversees the church’s soup kitchen and is Joe’s supervisor. Emma is a kind-hearted widow who is also grieving over her dead spouse.

The possible romance between Harry and Emma is just a way to make it look like Harry hasn’t lost his sensitive and emotional side. But make no mistake: Any possible “love story” in this movie is just filler. “Vengeance Is Mine” is all about cold-blooded revenge. The movie puts the most effort in the bloody fight scenes, not in character development.

The problem is that these characters, the action, the story and everything else about this movie are bland and derivative. The acting is mediocre. The direction is clumsy, with hokey music for the slow-motion scenes showing Harry’s awful flashbacks to witnessing the hit-and-run that killed his wife and daughter. Because so much of “Vengeance Is Mine” is predictable junk, viewers won’t find much to care about in this movie. It’s hard to care about a movie that’s so uninspired and forgettable.

Vertical Entertainment released “Vengeance Is Mine” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Rare Beasts,’ starring Billie Piper, Lily James and David Thewlis

September 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jolyon Coy, Leo Bill and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts”

Directed by Billie Piper

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and in the Spanish city of Girona, the dark comedy film “Rare Beasts” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single mother in London navigates her way through the dating scene and family relationships with cynicism and hope. 

Culture Audience: “Rare Beasts” will appeal primarily to people who can tolerate foul-mouthed and offbeat comedy about love and romance.

Toby Woolf and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts” tries a little too hard to be the opposite of a typical romantic comedy, but its brazen and often-vulgar attempts at being original end up working well for the story, more often than not. The movie is a memorable showcase for Billie Piper, who is the writer, director and star of “Rare Beasts,” which offers a deeply jaded and brash take on love, dating and family relationships. The tone and language of the movie can be very off-putting to people who want safer and more conventional romantic comedies. But for viewers who are a little more adventurous and who don’t mind watching very unhappy people trying to find love any way that they can (even if the love is all wrong for them), then “Rare Beasts” is a deliberately squirm-inducing ride.

In “Rare Beasts” (which is Piper’s feature-film directorial debut), Piper obliterates the notion that comedic heroines who are looking for love have to be perky and plucky people-pleasers. Piper’s Mandy character, who lives in London, is depressive and often rude. Mandy vacillates between wanting to be independent and wanting to admit she’s looking for a man help her feel more fulfilled. She doesn’t think that “feminism” is a dirty word, but she also thinks that feminism shouldn’t mean that men and women don’t need each other.

Mandy is a single mother to a son named Larch (played by Toby Woolf), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. He’s an eccentric loner child with some emotional issues because he’s prone to randomly throw temper tantrums. The movie infers that Larch is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Mandy adores Larch, but because she’s not a typical rom-com single mother, she sometimes acts as if she’s embarrassed or burdened by being a single mother because her parental responsibilities can get in the way of her love life. Larch’s father (who is shown briefly later in the movie) is an ex-lover who is not involved in raising Larch because Mandy never told this man that Larch is his son.

The opening scene of “Rare Beasts” sets the tone of what type of movie it is, because almost all the adult main characters in the movie are so forthright with their crassness. Some might call it “brutal honesty,” while others might call it “diarrhea of the mouth.” In this opening scene, Mandy is on a first date with a bespectacled misogynist named Pete (played by Leo Bill), who reveals a lot of his insecurities while Pete and Mandy (who are both in their late 30s) have dinner at a restaurant.

Pete begins his rant by saying, “I find women, in the main, intolerable. But I realize that I can’t live without them. My parents—it’s hard to find a love like that.” Viewers later find out that Pete’s parents have been married for about 45 years. Pete and his family have very conservative and traditional views of love and marriage, including believing that the man should always be the dominant partner in heterosexual relationships.

Right from the start, viewers know that Pete and Mandy will be a mismatch for each other. Pete mentions that he’s very religious, while Mandy says that she’s an atheist. Mandy also tells him on this first date: “In the spirit of honesty, Pete, you should know I give really bad blowjobs.” Then they talk about the use of teeth and gums during oral sex. Mandy says sarcastically, “Do you want teeth by day, gums by night?”

Pete then complains about modern, assertive women by saying, “You’ve got more testosterone running in your veins than blood!” Mandy is alarmed (or is amused?) by Pete’s blantant sexism and replies, “You’re going to rape me, aren’t you? Those are classic rapist remarks.”

The date ends shortly after this thorny conversation. While waiting for a taxi outside the restaurant, Mandy vomits on the street. Even though this date is a disaster, Pete says to Mandy: “You’ll marry me in a year.”

And just as you might expect in a comedy that aims to upend people’s assumptions, Mandy and Pete begin dating each other. And how’s this for potentially messy? Pete and Mandy work together. They’re both screenwriters for an unnamed TV series.

Viewers might be asking themselves, “What are these two people thinking by going into a train-wreck relationship? Are Mandy and Pete that lonely and desperate?” As the unlikely romance between Mandy and Pete continues, the answer is: “Yes, people can make bad relationship choices when they’re lonely and desperate.” You don’t need a movie to show it, because there are many examples of it in real life.

Essentially, Pete is up front from the start that he’s on the hunt for a dutiful wife. Mandy has gotten tired of being a single parent and wonders if her son would be better off if he had a father figure to help Mandy in raising Larch. Mandy and Pete both came along in each other’s lives when they felt they didn’t have any better options for a love partner. And now they’re in a relationship that could lead to marriage. Pete and Mandy predictably argue, because their core values are so fundamentally different from each other.

There are other big reasons why Mandy is in this relationship with Pete, but she doesn’t say it out loud. However, it’s all on display in the movie. First, her mother Marion (played by Kerry Fox), who’s a bitter, chain-smoking divorcée, lives with Mandy and Larch in a very cramped house. It’s obvious from Mandy and Marion’s interactions with each other that they have a love/hate relationship. Mandy is probably thinking that getting married would be the perfect reason to force her mother to live elsewhere, without Mandy being the “villain” to kick her mother out of the house.

Secondly, Mandy is unhappy in her job, which is a male-dominated company called Woo Productions. The details of the TV show she writes for are never really made clear in this movie. But based on conversations, it’s a TV show about women, and it has a mostly female audience. However, the people who run the show are men.

It’s implied that Pete makes a lot more money than Mandy in this job, although they both seem to have the same or similar job titles and duties. It’s probably gone through Mandy’s head more than a few times how she can afford to leave this job that she hates when she is the only breadwinner for her household. (Mandy’s mother Marion is retired. )The fact of the matter is that many people consider a partner’s income as one of many important reasons to get married to that person. Pretending that people don’t think this way is like living in a fantasy world.

Mandy’s boss is a sexist American named Leonardo (played by Trevor White), who gives this type of critique about how she writes screenplays: “Nobody wants to read about miserable women, because they don’t exist.” He also scolds and warns Mandy by saying that she could be close to getting fired: “No more late arrivals, no more sad women, no more miserable conduct.” Meanwhile, it’s shown that Pete can be late for a staff meeting, and he doesn’t get reprimanded by the boss.

In staff meetings, Mandy and her few female co-workers are frequently talked over and treated dismissively by their male co-workers, who think they know better than the women about how women think, feel and act. The disagreements sometimes spill over into arguments between the men and women, but since they all have a sexist male boss at this company, it’s easy to know whose side he takes in these arguments. In real life, Piper has been a star and an executive producer for the female-oriented TV series “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (which was on the air from 2007 to 2011) and “I Hate Suzie” (which debuted in 2020), so she knows more than a few things about the gender dynamics of TV creatives behind the scenes.

Underneath the crude conversations that many of the characters have in the movie is some snarky social commentary about women’s self-esteem and how—like it or not—many people in society place a woman’s worth on her marital status or who she’s dating. Mandy’s mother Marion is the type of outspoken, “no filter” person to blurt out to Mandy when they talk about their sex lives: “I’ve never used a condom!” Mandy’s sarcastic reply: “You should probably get tested.” And yet, Marion is still treated like a selfish homewrecker by her ex-husband Vic (played by David Thewlis) because Marion wanted to end their miserable marriage. Vic is an alcoholic who cheated on Marion when they were married.

During parts of the movie, Vic (who lives alone) tries to convince Marion to move back in with him, even though their marriage has been over for six years. Vic alternately tries to put Marion on a guilt trip and gives her phony flattery, by saying that living with him again is the least she can to do help him live longer because she’s better at certain domestic duties (such as cooking and cleaning) than he is. He even goes as far to suggest to Marion that it’s not a good look to be a woman of a certain age who isn’t living with a man. It’s pathetic emotional manipulation that doesn’t work. Marion and Mandy might not always have the best relationship, but they both agree that Vic is too toxic to really trust.

During the course of the movie, there are some “Greek chorus” type scenes of female passersby on the street who chant self-affirming mantras out loud, as if Mandy (and the viewers by extension) can hear their thoughts. It’s the movie’s way of saying that everyday people are wracked with insecurities, but women have to work harder to overcome self-doubt because men are more likely than women to be rewarded for being confident. Later in the movie, during a pivotal scene, Mandy has a soul-baring monologue on the street, and several female strangers congregate and react to what Mandy says.

“Rare Beasts” pokes fun at two rom-com clichés involving a couple who’s dating: the “meet the parents/family” scenario and the “guests at a wedding” scenario. Mandy meets Pete’s family (his parents and three sisters) over a predictably awkward dinner at the parents’ house. During this dinner, one of Pete’s secrets is revealed, and he shows a very nasty side to himself when he lashes out in anger. This scene also re-affirms that Mandy would not fit in well with this very religious and conservative family.

The wedding scene, which takes place in Spain, is more amusing. Pete’s family is a friend of the bride. The bride Cressida (played by Lily James) and the groom Woody (played by Jolyon Coy) are a blissfully happy but shallow couple. (James shares top billing in “Rare Beasts,” but she’s only in the movie for less than 10 minutes.) When Woody is introduced to Pete, Woody says to Mandy, “I hope his penis is as big as his heart!” Meanwhile, Cressida is preoccupied with how the wedding photos will look, and she describes her relationship with Woody as “our brand.”

In contrast to Cressida and Woody’s happiness, Mandy and Pete end up arguing when Pete finds out that Larch’s father Matthew (played by Ben Dilloway) is at the wedding too. It’s a sheer coincidence that Matthew is there. (It’s a big wedding and stranger coincidences have happened in real life.) And even though Matthew is not in Mandy’s and Larch’s lives, Pete (who likes to be the “alpha male”) still feels threatened when he sees that Matthew is better-looking and more self-assured than Pete is.

As unlikable as Pete can be, Mandy is no angel either. She likes to do cocaine at parties. She sometimes acts like she wishes she didn’t have the responsibility of parenthood. (But she’s never cruel to Larch.) And she can be a bit of a whiner who feels very jealous of others when she thinks their lives are going better than hers.

Piper’s directing style for “Rare Beasts” is to present a world where politeness isn’t really considered a virtue. People just regurgitate whatever is on their minds without thinking too much about hurting other people’s feelings or embarrassing themselves. (A perfect example is the scene where Mandy and Pete have sex with each other for the first time.) The tone is snappy, and some of the jokes don’t land very well, but viewers will get the sense that this movie was made by people who are fed up with boring rom-com tropes.

None of the adult characters in this movie has a “cute personality,” even though having a “cute personality” is an expected cliché in a romantic comedy. Piper and the movie’s other principal actors commit to all the unpleasant personality traits of their “Rare Beasts” characters. It’s a consistency that should be admired under Piper’s direction, when too often filmmakers might cave in to pressure to create more “likable” characters in order to make a romantic comedy appealing to the masses.

However, “Rare Beasts” is not a heartless film. Even in this crude and tactless world of “Rare Beasts,” people still want to be loved and respected. Some of them, such as Mandy and Pete, have terrible ways of going about it. The people who will dislike “Rare Beasts” the most will probably be those who expect British romantic comedies to be a certain way that isn’t delivered in this movie. This a very British film, to be sure, but it’s the equivalent of a cup of tea served with a lot of pepper and vinegar.

Brainstorm Media released “Rare Beasts” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 20, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 21, 2021.

Review: ‘Love Type D,’ starring Maeve Dermody and Oliver Farnworth

July 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Oliver Farnworth and Maeve Dermody in “Love Type D” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Love Type D”

Directed by Sasha Collington

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the romantic comedy “Love Type D” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people and people of Indian heritage) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s gets dumped by her boyfriend, finds out that it’s in her DNA to get dumped, and she tries to reverse this DNA gene by getting all of her ex-boyfriends to fall for her again, so that she can dump them. 

Culture Audience: “Love Type D” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching silly and convoluted romantic comedies.

Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud and Samuel Jones in “Love Type D” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Someone should’ve told the filmmakers of “Love Type D” that it’s neither funny nor cute to do a romantic comedy about a woman who spends most of the movie stalking an ex-boyfriend who dumped her. It’s pathetic. Why is she stalking him? Because she wants to make him fall back in love with her, just so she can break up with him.

Why does she want to do go to all this trouble? Because she wants to reverse a DNA gene that makes her pre-disposed to get rejected in life. Does this make any sense or sound like it’s any fun to watch? No. It’s meant to be a high absurdist concept for the movie, but it’s filmed in a very lowbrow and clumsy way.

“Love Type D” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Sasha Collington. Everything about this movie screams “first-time director.” Although viewers can certainly appreciate the efforts of the movie’s cast members to be as charming as possible, the actors are stuck in an appalling mess of a movie where the concept is flimsy, the “desperate bachelorette” trope is outdated, and the comedic timing is awkward.

If you want to waste your time watching this treacly drivel, here’s a summary of what to expect: Frankie (played by Maeve Dermody) works at a very boring office job at an instruction manual company in London. Her birth year is 1993, which means that she’s in her late 20s when this story takes place. Remember that she’s in this age bracket when Frankie acts like a petulant, delusional and immature teenager for most of the movie.

In the beginning of the story, Frankie thinks that her life is going very well. She’s madly in love (the operative word here is “madly”) with her good-looking boyfriend Thomas (played by Oliver Farnworth), who’s about the same age as Frankie, maybe a few years older, and definitely more emotionally mature than Frankie. Thomas’ occupation isn’t stated in the movie.

In the movie’s opening scene, Frankie says in a voiceover, and it’s shown in a flashback, that she met Thomas a year ago on the Piccadilly subway line while she was getting dumped by someone else. Thomas was kind and sympathetic when he witnessed this breakup. Thomas and Frankie started talking to each other, one thing led to another, and they’ve been dating each other ever since. As far as Frankie is concerned, Thomas is “the one.”

While Frankie is reminiscing about her “meet cute” moment with Thomas and how “sweet” he is, she’s waiting for him at a restaurant for what she’s sure will be a romantic lunch date with Thomas. Instead, a bespectacled 11-year-old boy in a school uniform approaches Frankie because he has a message from Thomas to deliver to her. The boy introduces himself as Thomas’ brother Wilbur (played by Rory Stroud), and the message from Thomas is that Thomas is breaking up with Frankie, effective immediately.

Frankie is in shock and can’t believe that Thomas didn’t have the courtesy to break up with her himself in person. She’s in such denial that she tries to find Thomas to see if this breakup is some kind of joke. When she goes to Thomas’ apartment and places where he’s known to hang out, she can’t find him. More likely, he’s doing a very good job of hiding from her.

On the same day she got dumped, Frankie randomly sees Wilbur buying a bouquet of flowers on the street and chases after him like a crazy person. She essentially grabs this innocent boy and demands Wilbur to tell her where Thomas is. Wilbur says that he doesn’t know. In the ruckus, Wilbur has dropped a small greeting card (presumably to go with the flower bouquet) that has a message in Thomas’ handwriting. Frankie immediately picks up the card and reads it.

The greeting card is addressed to someone named Cecilia, and the message says that Thomas can’t wait to see Cecilia that night at a nightclub called Opal 8. Frankie forces Wilbur to tell her who Cecilia is, and Wilbur says that Cecilia is Thomas’ new girlfriend, whom Thomas met four days ago. (That was fast.) Cecilia (played by Alexandra Evans) is also an astronaut, just to make it clear to viewers that Cecilia is much smarter and more accomplished than Frankie will ever be. Guess who’s going to Opal 8 to spy on Thomas?

At the nightclub, Frankie sees Thomas and Cecilia together and acting like a very amorous couple. Frankie confronts Thomas and asks why he dumped her and berates him for sending Wilbur to do Thomas’ dirty work. Thomas’ response is to give her the old “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup excuse. He also tells Frankie that it was nice knowing her, but that she needs to stop stalking him. It soon becomes very obvious why he no longer wants anything to do with her: Frankie is scary-level obsessive.

Frankie spends most of the movie pining over Thomas and stalking him over the phone, on social media and in person. Thomas gets increasingly irritated with her intrusiveness. Thomas eventually gets a restraining order against Frankie, but it doesn’t stop her. There’s no one in Frankie’s life to tell her, “Yes, Frankie, you really have been dumped in an embarrassing way. Scrape together whatever dignity you have left and leave him alone.”

So why does she want him back after being treated so disrespectfully by Thomas, and he’s moved on to someone new? It’s one of the fundamental failures of this movie. A romantic comedy is supposed to have a protagonist whom audiences should be rooting for, not a protagonist who is such an insufferable obsessive that most viewers can’t relate to this person.

The fateful day when Wilbur told Frankie the news that Thomas was breaking up with her, Wilbur commented to Frankie that there are two kinds of people in this world: dumpers and dumpees. Considering that all of Frankie’s ex-boyfriends broke up with her, she knows she’s in the “dumpee” category. The next day at her job, while she’s wallowing in self-pity, Frankie takes an informal survey of her office co-workers to find out which ones are “dumpers” and “dumpees.”

She gets reactions that range from “dumpers” bragging that they’ve never been dumped to “dumpees” who are embarrassed or confused over why she’s asking them such personal information. Eventually, she identifies five other unlucky-in-love co-workers who are “dumpees”: Andy (played by Philip Duguid-McQuillan), Debra (played by Elin Phillips), Deepak (played by Asif Khan), Jenny (played by Ruth Bratt) and Kevin (played by Emeka Sesay).

None of these co-workers is in the movie long enough for viewers to get a sense of who they really are. Debra seems to be Frankie’s closest thing to having a friend at work. Debra takes a liking to the newly hired office intern John (played by William Joseph Firth), and they hook up with each other. But since Debra is a “dumpee,” things will not end well for her. Frankie is sympathetic to Debra because Frankie has plenty of experience being dumped.

Not long after Thomas broke up with her, Frankie has another encounter with Wilbur, who is with a classmate named Barnaby (played by Samuel Jones), another school-uniform-wearing boy who is essentially Wilbur’s sidekick for the rest of the movie. This time, Frankie sees Wilbur and Barnaby at a convenience store. Wilbur tells her about a company called Epigenica that is conducting a scientific study to prove that people have a DNA gene that determines if they will be a “dumper” or “dumpee.”

Frankie doesn’t believe it at first, until Barnaby shows her the study results in a Scientist Today magazine that he happens to have with him. By reading the article, Frankie finds out that the Epigenica scientist in charge of the study is named Dr. Elsa Blomgren (played by Tovah Feldshuh), who has developed a test (which looks lot like a home pregnancy test) where people find out if they are a “dumper” or “dumpee.” People who test positive for the Type D gene are “dumpees.”

And you know that that means: Frankie wants to take that test to find out for sure if she’s got the Type D gene. More time is wasted in the movie as Frankie schemes for a way to get the test, which is not available for sale to the public yet. She finds out that people who attend a seminar retreat led by Dr. Blomgren can get tested for the Type D gene. But Frankie doesn’t get far with this plan, because her credit card is declined when she’s at the retreat, so she’s asked to leave.

Frankie’s next scheme is to pretend to be a Scientist Today journalist doing an article on Dr. Blomgren’s study. She calls up Dr. Blomgren’s office and asks for a free sample of the test. Eventually, Frankie gets enough free samples so that her other “dumpee” co-workers can take the test too. Not surprisingly, they all test positive for the Type D gene.

Frankie feels relieved that being a “dumpee” is genetic. In other words, she uses it as an excuse to not take responsibility for anything she might have done to get dumped. But now, she wants a way to “reverse” this gene. Wilbur has a theory that the gene is triggered by the first romance someone has. If someone’s first romance ended with that person being dumped, then that person will be a “dumpee” for life.

And so, Frankie decides she’s going to go further down this rabbit hole of ridiculousness by thinking that the Type D gene can be reversed if she follows this plan: Find all of her ex-boyfriends, starting with her first ex-boyfriend, get them to fall in love with her, and then dump them, so she can become a “dumper.” Mind you, it’s only supposed to work if she does this in the chronological order of each ex-boyfriend that she had.

Meanwhile, because this movie thinks this crazy plan isn’t enough to tangle up the plot, Frankie has encouraged all of her “dumpee” co-workers to do the same things for their exes, so that they too can get their Type D genes reversed. And there’s some nonsense about luring all of these exes into one big room on the same night to get it all over with in one fell swoop.

How do they lure all these people into the same room on the same night? By giving them a fake notice that they’ve won sweepstakes prize money. Not surprisingly, Thomas is the most difficult of Frankie’s ex-boyfriends to lure into her trap. And so, more time-wasting shenanigans occur.

Frankie shames Wilbur for agreeing to be Thomas’ messenger for the breakup, thereby making Wilbur feel so guilty, that he’s pressured into helping Frankie with her schemes. How much of a loser do you have to be to force an 11-year-old child to help fix your love life? The movie has gone so far off the deep end at this point, that it’s sunk into an unending abyss of berserk stupidity, which is about the same way that anyone can describe Frankie’s mind.

There are plenty of cringeworthy moments in the movie, including Frankie’s attempts to make Thomas jealous. Wilbur sets her up on a blind date with a nerdy scientist bachelor named Roland (played Dan Starkey), but Frankie is irritated because Roland is not the hunk that she thought he would be. Considering that Frankie is the worst type of desperate bachelorette, and she’s gotten dumped by every boyfriend she’s ever had, she’s got some nerve being so picky. And because every bad romantic comedy seems to have a karaoke scene, “Love Type D” has that cliché too. The karaoke scene is abysmal.

As terrible as “Love Type D” is, it’s not a complete train wreck. The character of Wilbur is adorable and quite patient to put up with a disaster like Frankie. Some of Frankie’s “dumpee” co-workers seem like nice, decent people. And there are moments when Farnworth can bring much empathy to his Thomas character, even though Thomas is supposed to be the “villain” of the story.

The problem is that a detestable character like Frankie is front and center for almost the entire movie, which has a sitcom-ish musical score that is almost as irritating as this clueless main character. Dermody’s acting doesn’t help, because she plays the Frankie role like a 16-year-old, not as a grown woman. There’s an attempt to have a “female empowerment” message at the end of the film. But it’s a very phony message, considering that viewers have already seen Frankie’s true nature. No amount of reverse-DNA experiments can reverse her annoying personality.

Vertical Entertainment released “Love Type D” on digital and VOD on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Profile’ (2021), starring Valene Kane and Shazad Latif

May 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Valene Kane in “Profile” (Photo courtesy of Bazelevs and Focus Features)

“Profile” (2021)

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Some language in Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in London and in Syria, in 2014, the dramatic film “Profile” features a cast of white and Middle Eastern characters (with one black person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British journalist creates an online persona for a news exposé on how jihadist terrorists in Syria recruit young Western women to become members of their ISIS militant groups, and the journalist gets emotionally involved with the man who is the focus of her investigation. 

Culture Audience: “Profile” will appeal primarily to people interested in a story that intersects between investigative journalism and online seduction.

Valene Kane and Shazad Latif in “Profile” (Photo courtesy of Bazelevs and Focus Features)

Years ago, NBC’s news investigation series “Dateline” had a segment called “To Catch a Predator,” which was about arresting sexual predators who use the Internet to target underage children. The suspenseful dramatic film “Profile” could have been subtitled “To Catch a Terrorist Predator,” since the movie depicts an investigation into how male ISIS terrorists in Syria lure Western teenage girls and young women into doing their bidding. The story in “Profile,” directed by Timur Bekmambetov, takes place over several weeks in 2014. And it’s a mostly well-paced thriller that’s not just about the investigation but it’s also about the dangers of creating a fake online persona and letting it take over your real life.

The “Profile” screenplay was written by Timur Bekmambetov, Britt Poulton and Olga Kharina. It probably helped to have women as two-thirds of this movie’s screenwriting team, since the protagonist in “Profile” is a female journalist who has to be written and portrayed as believable, in order for viewers to understand some of the decisions that she makes. “Profile” is based on the non-fiction book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” by a French journalist with the alias Anna Erelle, who has 24-hour security protection because of what she uncovered during her investigation.

In “Profile,” London-based freelance journalist Amy Whittaker (played by Valene Kane) has gotten an investigative assignment that she’s pitched to an unnamed TV network. Amy wants to find out how hundreds of young Western women and girls (some as young as 12 to 14 years old), who were usually raised as Christians, have radically changed their lives to convert to Islam, move to Syria, and live as extreme jihadists for ISIS. In order to expose the grooming process, Amy has decided that she will create a fake online profile and pretend to be a young woman who will be “bait” for one of the male jihadists.

At the beginning of the story, Amy is under a lot of stress because she’s overdue on her rent, and her assignment editor Vick (played by Christine Adams) is pressuring Amy to wrap up the investigation so that the TV network can have the story by the expected deadline. Amy creates a fake online persona named Melody Nelson, with her profile avatar as Snow White wearing a hijab and holding a lollipop. In real life, Amy is in her 30s, but she decides that her alter ego Melody will be 19 years old. Amy was originally going to make Melody 25 years old, but her research found that the terrorists prefer to lure teenage girls into their jihadist lifestyles.

Soon after Amy “likes” a jihadist ideology video that’s posted on social media, she is contacted by a terrorist in Syria named Abu Bilel Al-Britani (played by Shazad Latif), who likes to be called Bilel. And their “courtship” begins. Bilel, who is in his late 20s or early 30s, was born and raised in London, but he grew to hate the United Kingdom and other Western countries. As an adult, he moved to Syria, where he has become a middle-ranking leader of a group of terrorists.

Bilel (whose online avatar is a snarling lion) is charming and overly flattering with “Melody.” Amy portrays “Melody” as a vulnerable and lonely orphaned teenager in East London who has converted to Islam because she became disillusioned with Christian beliefs. As “Melody,” Amy pretends to be in awe of Bilel and comes across as someone who enthusiastically shares his beliefs that his ISIS activities are for a good cause. When she asks Bilel what his job is, he doesn’t hesitate to proudly tell her: “Killing people.”

Amy is somewhat caught off-guard when Bilel immediately begins trying to sell “Melody” on the idea that her life is an overpriced rut in England and that she’s better off being in Syria, where he says that she will be treated like a queen. Soon after they start messaging each other online, Bilel tells “Melody” that Syria is a great place to live. And he doesn’t waste time in insisting that they take their conversations to video chats on Skype.

And so, there’s an extended sequence of Amy quickly getting a crash course on how to give the appearance of being the perfect naïve target for an ISIS predator. Amy uses YouTube for makeup tutorials to apply makeup that will make her look younger and for instructions on strict Muslim traditions, such as wearing a jihab and gender rules. She also goes on YouTube and other social media to see first-hand accounts of teenage girls in the United States and Europe who were seduced into moving to the Middle East to become wives and concubines of jihadist terrorists and ended up becoming sex slaves.

One teenager’s story particularly touches Amy: Taylor Conger (played by Eloise Thomas) was a 14-year-old British loner who chronicled her life on YouTube. At some point, Taylor decided to upend her life, moved to Syria, and became an ISIS militant and the wife of a jihadist. What happens to Taylor is detailed later in the movie. As part of Amy’s research from social media videos that were made by radicalized Western teens, “Melody” uses some of the same words in her conversations with Bilel to explain why she’s seeking a big change in her isolated and depressing life.

During this investigation, Amy has been making plans to move in with her boyfriend Matt (played by Morgan Watkins), who’s aware that Amy is investigating an ISIS terrorist by creating a fake online persona. Matt finds a place that he likes and shows it to Amy during a video chat, but Amy prefers another home that they found because it has a garden for her dog Sparky. They eventually settle on the place that’s Amy’s first choice.

Amy also has an energetic and somewhat nosy friend named Kathy Pallary (played by Emma Cater), who is always trying to get homebody Amy to do things like go shopping with her or have dinner with her. Amy has confided in Kathy about her investigation. And you know that that means: Kathy wants to eventually see what Amy has uncovered.

The TV network has offered information technology (IT) assistance to Amy in her investigation. And so, an IT employee named Lou Kabir (played by Amir Rahimzadeh), who works for the TV network, is introduced to Amy through Skype. He coaches her on how to navigate the fake online accounts she’s created so that she can simultaneously use her real online accounts, in case she needs to switch back and forth with ease.

During Lou’s first online meeting with Amy, he mentions offhand that his mother is from Syria. After their conversation, Amy expresses concerns to Vick about Lou’s ethnicity and wonders out loud if Lou might tell his mother about the investigation and what might happen if Lou’s mother knows a terrorist. Vick, who says that Lou’s mother has lived in England for decades, admonishes Amy for being paranoid and racist. And it actually is very hypocritical for Amy to think this way, because she’s the one who’s been indiscreet about the investigation, having already told Matt and Kathy about it.

When “Melody” and Bilel meet each other for the first time, Amy has to pretend to be someone who’s attracted enough to Bilel to easily fall in love with him. She acts shy, deferential and coquettish. She tells Bilel that she’s 19. And when he asks her if she’s a virgin, she says yes. Amy secretly video records the Skype conversations that she has with Bilel.

The rest of the movie is a psychological back-and-forth over who’s really doing the more successful con game: the terrorist or the journalist? Because most of the movie consists of Skype conversations and messaging on social media, “Profile” keeps a lot of the suspense going with plot contrivances, such as Matt and Kathy unknowingly interrupting Amy when she’s on Skype chats with Bilel. Amy usually has to ignore their messages when she’s with Bilel. And eventually, Amy gets so caught up in the investigation that it starts to take a toll on her relationship with Matt.

Meanwhile, Vick’s patience starts to wear thin, as Amy keeps delaying the end of the investigation because Amy thinks she can find information that can not only expose the Bilel’s recruitment tactics but also find a way that he can be captured. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch for Amy to suddenly start thinking that she can be like an MI6 operative, but a lot of investigative journalists can develop grandiose and ambitious goals when they get very caught up in their investigations.

Bilel initially comes across as very confident and assertive, but he eventually shows a vulnerable side to “Melody” when he opens up to her about his troubled family history. It’s a turning point in their relationship, because it triggers Amy to reveal to Bilel that she has her own struggles with a family tragedy that still haunts her. Telling Bilel her big family secret is a crack in her façade, because viewers will get the impression that although Amy told this story as “Melody,” the story is really what happened to Amy.

Viewers will have to suspend some disbelief in a few areas of the movie. For example, Bilel is paranoid about being exposed by journalists and government spies. And yet, he’s all over social media bragging about his misdeeds, without any attempts to hide his face and disguise his voice. Bilel also never does a Google search on any photos of “Melody.” Because if he did, he would find out that she looks exactly like a London journalist named Amy Whittaker who’s on social media.

However, Bilel isn’t a complete fool. Amy never really looks as young as 19, and Bilel is suspicious of how old “Melody” really is. Eventually, he confronts “Melody” and demands that she tell him what her real age is. Amy has to decide if she’s going to stick with the lie or confess something that’s more believable.

Amy’s undercover work starts to spill over into her real life. When she sees a report that ISIS terrorists have co-opted the hand gesture of pointing an index finger upright (the way some people indicate the number one), Amy gets paranoid when she sees a social media photo of Kathy making the same gesture. For a brief moment, wonders if Kathy is a secret terrorist until Kathy explains that she made the gesture as that it was one more day until her celebration of the upcoming holiday season.

Amy also starts to blur the lines between her professional and personal lives when she takes her investigation beyond what she’s supposed to do. During a video chat, Bilel confided in “Melody” about how one of his favorite childhood memories was going to a London sweetshop owned by a fellow Syrian. Bilel tells her that it’s one of his few happy memories of London.

One day, Amy (disguised as Melody) surprises Bilel by doing their next Skype chat from that same London sweetshop. She gives a video tour of the shop so that it can bring back some happy memories for him. Although this might seem like shrewd gesture to further endear herself to Bilel, it’s actually a very risky thing to do because no one should be seeing Amy out in public in her undercover disguise. What if someone who knew Amy walked into that shop and recognized her? (Stranger things have happened.) Her cover would be blown.

It’s during this video chat that something major happens in the story that reveals that Amy hasn’t been able to keep an emotional distance from Bilel during this investigation. The result of this video chat also brings up journalistic ethical dilemmas that can happen when journalists work undercover and encounter things that they did not expect. Amy does indeed go down a proverbial “rabbit hole” in her obsession to get a bigger story, but what will it cost her?

The believable performances of Kane and Latif make “Profile” a watchable film overall. Where the movie falters a bit is during the middle part of the story, which drags a little with some cutesy courtship footage, such as Bilel and “Melody” cooking curry during one of their Skype chats. And there are many instances during their Skype chats when someone in Amy’s real life interrupts and she has to abruptly disconnect from her call with Bilel. Bilel doesn’t get suspicious though (even though he should) because Amy (as “Melody”) always comes up with an excuse that he automatically believes.

In “Profile,” the terror of living in war-torn Syria is often a backdrop and not at the forefront—and deliberately so, because Bilel wants to paint a rosy picture of Syria, in order to lure “Melody” there. A bomb might go off while Bilel is outside, but if it does, he will quickly disconnect from the call. Likewise, he doesn’t show “Melody” any part of his murderous acts and other violence that he commits as a terrorist.

It’s an example of how people who create fake personas online only show what they want to show. If viewers are willing to tolerate seeing a movie about catching a terrorist that involves a lot of footage of computer screens, then “Profile” should hold people’s interest with this intriguing story. Beyond what’s on the computer screens, the movie skillfully offers a metaphorical blank canvas where viewers can project their opinions on how they feel about investigative journalism, online relationshps and tactics used to fight terrorism.

Focus Features released “Profile” in U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

Review: ‘The Courier’ (2021), starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley

March 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Courier” (Photo by Liam Daniel/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Courier” (2021) 

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1960s in Moscow, London and briefly in Langley, Virginia, the spy drama “The Courier” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class, primarily those who work for the government.

Culture Clash: A British businessman becomes a spy for MI6, as the Cold War between the Soviet Union and Western countries begins to escalate under the possibility of nuclear weapon attacks.

Culture Audience: “The Courier” will appeal primarily to people who like espionage movies that go beyond the political intrigue and examine the toll that spying can take on family life.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan in “The Courier” (Photo by Liam Daniel/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Courier,” which is inspired by true events, aims to put a spotlight on people who have been historically underrated in preventing a nuclear war between the then-Soviet Union and countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The main characters of this movie just happen to be spies. Elevated by above-average acting, “The Courier” is not an essential spy movie, but it’s good enough for people who enjoy this genre.

Politicians tend to get the most credit for de-escalating international tensions that could turn into war. However, “The Courier” (directed by Dominic Cooke and written by Tom O’Connor) makes a case that spies have also been instrumental in preventing wars. It’s pretty obvious why spies don’t get as much credit as politicians do: Because spies’ work is secretive and undercover, their identities as spies cannot be revealed, unless their cover is blown in some way.

That’s what happened to the two spies who are at the center of this story: Greville Wynne (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) from the United Kingdom and Oleg Penkovsky (played by Merab Ninidze) from the Soviet Union. Their paths collided in 1960, when Oleg, a longtime bureaucrat, became increasingly alarmed over then-Soviet Union premier Nikita Khrushchev’s nuclear threats against Western countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. (The partnership between these two spies was also portrayed in the 1985 BBC miniseries “Wynne and Penkovsky,” which A&E televised in the U.S. under the name “The Man From Moscow.”)

“The Courier” opens with a scene in Moscow on August 12, 1960, showing Premier Khrushchev giving an inflammatory speech in a closed-door meeting with other Russian bureaucrats. What’s said in that meeting is enough for Oleg to do what he had probably been contemplating for quite some time: He becomes a whistleblower who warns the United States about these imminent nuclear weapons threats. Oleg meets with two unidentified American men at night, gives them some paperwork, and urges them to take this paperwork to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Four months later at MI6 headquarters in London, a briskly confident and young CIA operative named Emily Donovan has a meeting with two MI6 operatives: Arthur Temple “Dickie” Franks (played by Angus Wright) and Bertrand (played by Anton Lesser), whose last name is not mentioned in the movie. (In real life, Franks would later become the head of MI6 from 1979 to 1982.) Emily walks into the meeting and tells these older men, “I’ve brought you boys a present.”

The “present” is information that’s a dream come true for any intelligence agency that wants to spy on the Soviet Union: A Soviet spy has offered to become a double agent for the CIA because of his concerns over Khrushchev’s erratic personality and increasing possibilities that Khrushchev will start a nuclear war against the nations that are the Soviet Union’s enemies. This Soviet spy is Oleg, who wants to smuggle out information by a courier.

The CIA can’t send an American courier to be Oleg’s contact in the Soviet Union, because it would be too obvious. And so, the CIA has sent Emily to enlist the help of MI6 to send a Brit to Moscow to become Oleg’s courier. In the meeting with the MI6 officials, Emily says that the selected courier should be someone whom the Russians would least expect: a person with no history of working for a government agency.

Greville’s name comes up in the meeting because he’s a businessman who frequently travels outside of the United Kingdom. In real life, he had already visited Moscow several times by the time he became a spy. In the movie, Greville is portrayed as someone who is so unfamiliar with Moscow, that Oleg is the first person to introduce Greville to the city. And in the movie, Greville doesn’t know any Russian when he first arrives in Moscow, so Oleg is often his translator.

In the meeting between the CIA and MI6 operatives, Emily gives Dickie and Bertrand a brief background on Oleg so that they know that he’s a government insider who can be trusted. Oleg is a former military colonel and artillery officer who was decorated 13 times during World War II. He lives in Moscow and works for the GRU, the Soviet Union/Russia’s military intelligence agency. But since Oleg is a spy, his cover is overseeing the state committee on scientific research.

“The Courier” was originally titled “Ironbark,” which is Oleg’s code name as a spy. The title change was no doubt to shift the focus more on the Greville Wynne character, who gets more screen time and who is portrayed by a better-known actor. The movie is a story about two very different spies who become unlikely partners with a common goal: to protect their respective countries from engaging in a nuclear war. However, “The Courier” shows more of Greville’s personality and home life than it does for Oleg.

Oleg lives a quiet and unassuming life with his wife Vera (played by Maria Mironova) and their daughter Nina (played by Emma Penzina), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. By all appearances Oleg and Vera have a happy marriage and are loving parents to Nina. Oleg and Vera are both even-tempered and have mutual respect for each other. Later in the story, it’s revealed that Vera knows that Oleg is a spy.

Greville has a very different personality and marriage. A hard-drinking businessman, Greville is sometimes quick to lose his temper. And his marriage to his wife Sheila (played by Jessie Buckley) has become troubled due to Greville past infidelity. At the beginning of the story, Sheila and Greville have become distant from each other. It’s mentioned several times throughout the movie that Greville’s infidelity has broken Sheila’s trust in Greville, but she’s slowly trying to trust him again.

Sheila and Greville have a 10-year-old son named Andrew (played by Keir Hills), who sometimes becomes the target of Greville’s verbal tirades if Andrew does something harmless to set off Greville’s temper. For example, a scene in the movie shows Sheila, Greville and Andrew spending some family time together on a camping trip. Because the weather forecast predicted possible rain, Andrew was put in charge of bringing the family’s raincoats on the trip, but Andrew forgot to bring these items. When Greville finds out, he berates Andrew until Sheila tells him to stop, and she comforts Andrew by saying that Greville didn’t really mean his insulting remarks.

These glimpses into Greville’s home life show that he wasn’t the type of ideal hero that he could have been portrayed as in this movie. Rather, he was a very flawed human being who found himself caught up in a situation that ended up spiraling out of his control. When Greville is first approached by MI6 and the CIA to become a spy, these intelligence agencies already know that he’s a heavy drinker, but they want to take a chance on him because he can have a very charming personality and because he adapts quickly to foreign environments.

In the movie, it’s portrayed that MI6’s plan to lure Greville into becoming a spy starts with a phone call from Dickie, using the alias James Dobby and pretending to be an official from the U.K.’s board of trade. Greville had met “James” the previous year at some type of business conference. In the phone call, Dickie/James asks to meet with Greville for lunch to discuss a possible business opportunity.

When Greville arrives for the lunch, he’s surprised to see someone else is with Dickie: a young American woman, who introduces herself as Helena Talbot. Of course, that’s not her real name. Helena Talbot is really CIA operative Emily Donovan.

During this lunch conversation, “James” and “Helena” ask Greville how he would feel about doing business in the Soviet Union and what he would do to ingratiate himself with the government officials in Moscow. It doesn’t take long for Greville to figure out that “James” and “Helena” are really spies, but they won’t tell Greville their real names when he asks. And he wants no part of what they seem to be proposing.

Dickie tries to persuade Greville by saying that Greville’s spy work would be “nothing dodgy, nothing illegal. It would be a real service to Great Britain.” Emily adds, “And to the world.” Greville is told repeatedly that all he has to do is conduct business in Moscow as a salesman and bring back some paperwork that will be given to him by a contact person.

Greville still isn’t convinced because he thinks his life might be in danger if he becomes a spy. Dickie/”James” tells Greville that Greville being a middle-aged, non-athletic man who has a drinking problem doesn’t make him a spy stereotype of a dashing, physically fit hero with combat skills. Dickie adds, “My point is if this mission were the least bit dangerous, you really are the last man we’d send.” Greville replies with a sarcastic tone, “Thank you for putting it so delicately.”

Of course, Greville ultimately agrees to the mission. It’s implied that he said yes out of a sense of patriotism but also out of a sense of curiosity and probably to boost his ego. In that fateful first meeting, Dickie mentioned that he knows Greville spent time in the military doing office work only and not being in combat. Agreeing to this spy mission was probably Greville’s way of proving to himself that he really could be useful to the U.K. government.

“The Courier” tends to drag a little when it shows the actual back-and-forth of Oleg and Greville doing their spy transactions. After all, there’s not much excitement to be had when all Greville has to do is bring some paperwork back with him to the United Kingdom and hand off the documents to MI6. Oleg and Greville grow to like and respect each other, and they eventually meet each other’s wives and kids.

The real tension in the movie begins when Oleg and Greville are in danger of being exposed and punished by the Russian government. People who already know what happened in real life won’t be surprised by how it’s portrayed in the movie. (This part of the movie won’t be described in this review, since it’s considered spoiler information.) But it’s enough to say that the greatest strength of “The Courier” is in how it skillfully portrays the often-complex layers of loyalties that spies often have and how they have to choose between betraying a government or betraying an individual.

Greville keeps his spying activities a secret from Sheila for as long as possible. He tells her that his frequent trips to Moscow are because he wants to “open a door to the West” for Russians to do more business with Western companies such as his. Greville is described as working in sales, but the movie never really makes clear what he’s selling. (In real life, he was electrical engineer who became a business salesperson.)

At first, Greville’s trips to Moscow seem to boost his confidence. When he gets home, he’s much more amorous with Sheila, who is pleasantly surprised that their sex life has markedly improved. But as time wears on, the stress of his spy work starts to get to him, and he becomes more short-tempered. And because he is so vague with Sheila about what he does while he’s in Moscow, it isn’t long before Sheila starts to suspect that Greville is cheating on her.

“The Courier” also covers how the 1962 Bay of Pigs crisis in Cuba had a drastic effect on this spy mission. This political development ramps up the urgency, as well as the life-threatening risks, in what Oleg and Greville are doing. The last third of “The Courier” is the best part of the movie, as Cumberbatch in particular shows a range of emotions under extreme circumstances that make “The Courier” a compelling story to watch.

Under the solid direction of Cooke, “The Courier” isn’t a groundbreaking movie and follows a lot of conventions that are often seen in spy films. For example, there are the inevitable scenes of a spy making copies of important files and furtively looking around out of fear of being caught. The movie might be considered a bit dull in some areas for anyone who won’t have the patience to see the whole film.

What’s not conventional about “The Courier” and is actually quite refreshing is that it doesn’t have the tired cliché of the primary female spy character using her sexuality to get what she wants. The character of Emily is both intelligent and charismatic, but she’s not perfect, as she makes a critical error in judgment during one part of the story. There are some veiled references to the sexism that Emily no doubt experienced as a woman in the male-dominated CIA. But since she’s not the center of the story, the movie doesn’t expound on any gender discrimination within these types of government agencies in the U.S., the U.K. or in the former Soviet Union.

Through the Emily character, “The Courier” shows that even though the U.S.’s CIA and the U.K.’s MI6 teamed up for this mission, there was still some rivalry between these two allied countries. In a meeting at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, she is seen giving a briefing to one of her supervisors. Emily tells him that she’s good at fooling the Brits by making the Brits think they’re in charge, because she often plays the part of someone who’s a naïve agent who’s eager to learn from her more experienced counterparts. The point of this scene is to demonstrate that Emily’s loyalty will be to the U.S., first and foremost.

All of the cast members play their roles well, but since Greville’s perspective is the one that gets the most importance, Cumberbatch’s performance is at the heart of the film, and he admirably rises to the challenge. The movie could have used more insight into Oleg’s character to show how being a double agent affected his state of mind. For example, the scene with the Wynne family on a camping trip wasn’t essential and could have been substituted with a more relevant scene showing Oleg’s personal trials and tribulations. As it stands, “The Courier” has a few areas that needed improving, but the overall end result is a worthwhile option if people are in the mood to watch a retro spy movie.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released “The Courier” in U.S. cinemas on March 19, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is April 16, 2021. “The Courier” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 1, 2021.

Review: ‘The Father’ (2021), starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman

February 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in “The Father” (Photo by Sean Gleason/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Father” (2021) 

Directed by Florian Zeller

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the dramatic film “The Father” features an almost-all white cast of characters (with one person of Indian heritage) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly man with dementia has problems determining what’s real and what isn’t, as his middle-aged daughter contemplates putting him in a nursing home.

Culture Audience: “The Father” will appeal primarily to people interested in high-quality dramas with excellent acting and a unique take on the issues of aging and mental deterioration.

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in “The Father” (Photo by Sean Gleason/Sony Pictures Classics)

The well-acted dramatic film “The Father” is a different type of psychological horror story: The movie is told entirely from the perspective of an elderly man with dementia. Viewers are taken on a harrowing ride that feels like an endless loop of uncertainty and confusion, anchored by outstanding performances from Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.

Directed by Florian Zeller (who co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Hampton), “The Father” is adapted from Zeller’s West End play. “The Father” movie, which is Zeller’s feature-film directorial debut, is designed very much like a theatrical stage production. Almost everything in the story takes place inside a building, and the movie is very heavy with dialogue.

But it’s not the type of performance piece that can be done by just any actors. This movie greatly benefits from having two remarkable leading actors who are also Academy Award winners. Hopkins gives the type of performance that is quietly devastating. Colman convincingly expresses the heartbreak of who someone who feels helpless to stop a loved one’s inevitable decline.

Even if viewers don’t know before seeing “The Father” that the story is from the point of view of someone who has dementia, this perspective is made clear very early on in the movie, which takes place in London. Hopkins portrays a retiree widower named Anthony, while Colman portrays his daughter Anne. Or is she really his daughter? Sometimes he doesn’t know who she is, and sometimes she tells him different stories about who she is.

Watching “The Father” is very much like putting pieces of a puzzle together where some of the pieces are missing, while other pieces aren’t meant to be there at all. There are scenarios that are repeated, and sometimes the same characters are portrayed by different actors. The intention is to make viewers feel as disoriented as Anthony feels.

What is consistent is that there is turmoil and indecision in Anthony’s family over what to do with him. Anne has grown frustrated because she’s having a difficult time finding a caregiver who will tolerate Anthony’s mercurial ways. He can be charming but also insulting. He can insist on being strong enough to take care of himself, but he can also show vulnerability and beg Anne not to abandon him.

The most recent caregiver whom Anne has hired is a young woman named Angela (played by Imogen Poots), who has her patience tested in taking care of Anthony. Simple tasks such as giving Anthony’s prescribed medication to him become lessons in jumping over mental minefields through his convoluted and erratic conversations. One minute Anthony tells Angela that he used to be a professional tap dancer and wants to show her some dance steps. The next minute Anne corrects him and says that Anthony was never a dancer and that he’s actually a retired engineer.

Anthony keeps telling Angela that she reminds him of his other daughter Lucy, whom he describes as a painter artist who doesn’t visit him as much as he’d like her to visit, because she’s always traveling. In front of Anne, Anthony also tells Angela that Lucy is his favorite child, as Anne’s eyes well up with tears. (One thing that’s clear is that Anthony doesn’t have any other children besides Anne and Lucy.) The real story about Lucy is eventually revealed, and it’s not much of a surprise.

Meanwhile, Anne’s husband Paul (played by Rufus Sewell) has grown increasingly frustrated with Anne’s insistence on having a caregiver for Anthony. Paul thinks that Anthony needs to be in a nursing home or some other institution where he can get 24-hour care. This disagreement has caused tension in their marriage, and Anthony notices it.

At certain parts of the story, depending on what you believe to be real, it’s explained that Anthony lived in his own apartment with a live-in caregiver. But the caregiver who preceded Angela abruptly left, so Anne decided to let Anthony temporarily stay with her and Paul until they could find a new caregiver for Anthony. Anne and Paul work outside their home on weekdays, so Anne has arranged for Angela to work until 6 p.m., when Anne is able to come home.

But then, in another scenario, Anne is divorced, has fallen in love with a man named Paul (who is never seen in the movie), and Paul lives in Paris. Anne breaks the bad news to Anthony that she will be moving to Paris, but she plans to visit Anthony on weekends on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Olivia Williams and Mark Gatiss portray two people who might or might not be in Anthony’s family.

Anthony has a fixation on his wristwatch, and it’s symbolic of his desperation to hang on to something from his past that he thinks is reliable. There are moments when he becomes enraged when he thinks that someone has stolen his watch. He has hiding places for his valuables that Anne might or might not know about when he inevitably tells her that something valuable of his is missing.

The last 15 minutes of “The Father” deliver an emotional wallop that lays bare the torturous nightmare of having dementia. The movie’s directing and screenplay are impressive, but the movie’s stellar casting and performances make it a superb movie that will leave a lasting impact on viewers.

Sony Pictures Classics released “The Father” in select U.S. cinemas on February 26, 2021, with expansions scheduled for more U.S. cinemas on March 12, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is March 26, 2021.

Review: ‘Amulet,’ starring Alec Secareanu, Carla Juri and Imelda Staunton

July 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Alec Secareanu and Carla Juri in “Amulet” (Photo by Rob Baker Ashton/Magnet Releasing)

“Amulet” 

Directed by Romola Garai

Culture Representation: Taking place in England and unnamed European countries in unspecified modern time periods, the horror film “Amulet” has an almost all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash:  A former soldier-turned-Ph.D. philosophy student takes a job in London as a live-in handyman in a creepy house that’s occupied by a young woman and her mysterious mother, who lives as a recluse in the house’s attic.

Culture Audience: “Amulet” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that excel in creating a foreboding atmosphere, but makes viewers watch a lot of extremely slow-paced scenes to get to the movie’s underlying messages and plot twists.

Imelda Staunton in “Amulet” (Photo by Rob Baker Ashton/Magnet Releasing)

The horror film “Amulet” (written and directed by Romola Garai) makes a bold effort to flip a lot of tropes and shatter a lot of stereotypes that are seen all too often in psychological thrillers. But in doing so, the movie’s execution falls short of being completely engaging, since it’s bogged down by extremely slow pacing. And making matters worse, several parts of the movie have dialogue and reactions that are so simple-minded, it makes you question the intelligence of the Ph. D. student who’s one of the movie’s main characters.

People who hate movies that have flashbacks that might be confusing, be warned: “Amulet” is full of these types of flashbacks. The gist of the story is that there’s a former war soldier from an unnamed continental European country who has ended up in a haunted house in London. The movie never states what war he was in, but he keeps having nightmare flashbacks to that war, where he worked for a time as a lone soldier manning a checkpoint booth on a very deserted road in a wooded area.

The former soldier’s name is Tomaz (played by Alec Secareanu), and somehow he’s ended up in England, where he’s enrolled in a doctorate program for philosophy. Tomaz (who has a beard in the present day) keeps having nightmares about his time as a soldier, when he didn’t have a beard. (It’s one of the ways that the movie distinguishes between the past and the present.)

Tomaz’s nightmares are shown as flashbacks in non-chronological order, so viewers have to piece together the puzzle of this story. It might be a challenge for viewers who have short attention spans or who are watching this often-dull movie with other distractions.

The most important things to know about the flashbacks are that while Tomaz was a soldier, he found an amulet buried in the woods, and he got to know a woman in distress whom he met when she ran to the checkpoint and collapsed in front of him. The checkpoint is located in the same wooded area where Tomaz found the amulet.

The woman’s name is Miriam (played by Angeliki Papoulia), and when Tomaz first saw her running toward the checkpoint, he yelled at her to stop and that if she didn’t stop, he was going to shoot. Just as Tomaz raised his gun to shoot her, she collapsed in front of him. It’s shown in flashbacks that after Miriam regained consciousness with Tomaz’s help, they began having conversations and he became her protector, since she apparently needed food and shelter.

Flash forward to the present day. While Tomaz has been working on his dissertation in London, he’s ended up living with some homeless people in an abandoned church. A fire breaks out at the church, so the homeless people scatter.

The next thing you know, a bloodied Tomaz is being treated at a hospital. A nurse asks him, “Who tied you up?” He replies, “Friends. It was a joke.” Tomaz then mentions that he had a bag with him but it’s now missing.

The nurse tells him that Tomaz needs to speak to the orderly, who has the bag and a message for him. While on his way to retrieve his bag, Tomas passes by a room where he sees a pregnant woman sitting on a floor, and she’s crying out in pain because she’s in labor. The only purpose of this deliberately confusing scene is to set the tone for themes of some very female-centric pain that’s shown later in the story.

Why is Tomaz homeless? The movie might answer that question, but in the meantime, Tomaz finds a new place to live when a nun from the local diocese, who knows that Tomaz was one of the squatters in the burned church, tells him about a house that needs a live-in handyman.

The nun’s name is Sister Claire (played by Imelda Staunton), and she tells Tomaz that the people in the house are offering free room and board in exchange for him doing repairs and renovations. And because this is a horror movie, you can bet that some very bad things are going to happen in this house.

The cottage-styled house looks quaint and charming on the outside, but on the inside there’s a lot of emotional rot and turmoil. There are two people who live in the house: Magda (played by Carla Juri), a woman in her 20s and her unnamed mother (played by Anah Ruddin), who lives as an ailing recluse upstairs in the attic. The mother can often be heard moaning in pain, and Tomaz tries to avoid being in contact with her as much as possible.

As Tomaz gets to know Magda, he begins to see that she is a very naïve, sheltered and passive woman. She says she hasn’t traveled outside of the city, nor does she show an interest in traveling or going outside her comfort zone. And there are signs that she doesn’t have much experience with romance or dating.

But what disturbs Tomaz the most is that Magda’s mother appears to be physically abusing Magda. (He sees Magda secretly covering her bruises and possible bite marks with bandages.) And Tomaz is also starting to get creeped out by strange things that are happening in the house.

He finds a mysterious white bat-like creature in the bathroom toilet, which is filled with a disgusting dark liquid. Tomaz kills the creature by stomping on it. Magda is there too, but she oddly doesn’t seem as frightened by this bat-like creature in the same way as Tomaz.

And when Tomaz does some ceiling repairs, he sees (or is it hallucinates?) that the ceiling has engravings that look a lot like the engravings on the amulet he found in the woods. It startles him so much that falls off a ladder while he’s looking at the ceiling. Tomaz believes that the engravings are to ward off evil spirits.

Magda doesn’t see a lot of the same things in the house that Tomaz does, so he begins to wonder if he’s going crazy. Tomaz has also seen what Magda’s mother looks like, and she’s decrepit-looking old woman who would be a stereotypical example of what a witch is supposed to look like. Is it any wonder that Tomaz thinks that maybe Magda’s mother is behind some of the eerie things that he’s experiencing in the house?

Tomaz tells his suspicions to Sister Claire and says that he thinks Magda’s mother doesn’t want him in the house. The nun replies: “What we want isn’t always what we need.” At least once during the story, Tomaz threatens to quit.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Tomaz and Magda starts to become more emotionally intimate. It’s obvious that she wants something sexual to happen between them. However, Tomaz is very resistant and tries to let Magda down easy without insulting her. (After all, she’s technically one of his bosses.)

Unfortunately, the Magda character is written in such a simple-minded way, that the conversations she has with Tomaz are excruciating to watch. Magda says things like this to Tomaz about his soldier past: “Did you kill people? It’s a sin to waste your life.” And when the emotionally stunted Magda starts to show a romantic interest in Tomaz, it’s like watching an adolescent girl trying to be sexually attractive to a grown man. Very cringeworthy.

Sister Claire is an interesting character (and Staunton is by far the best actor in this cast), but she isn’t in the movie enough to bring more energy to this often-listless story. Because “Amulet” is told from Tomaz’s perspective, he spends most of the movie being confused about what’s going on in the house while dealing with his nightmare flashbacks that appear to seep into his current life. Therefore, viewers have to figure out what might be “real” and what might be a “delusion.”

“Amulet” is the first feature film for Garai as a writer/director. She is also known as an actress who’s appeared in British TV series such as “The Hour” and the 2009 miniseries adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” which starred Garai in the title role. Most of the actors in “Amulet” are well-cast in this movie, except for Juri, who gives a very annoying performance.

Although the production design, cinematography, visual effects and cinematography suit this horror film very well, the weak links are the movie’s screenplay, editing and overall direction. The characters often speak with long pauses, which might work for a play on stage. But this is a horror movie, and lethargic dialogue and sluggish pacing are antidotes to the type of suspense that’s crucial for any good horror flick.

“Amulet” certainly deserves a lot of credit for having some twist-filled elements that add intrigue to the story. It’s too bad that these plot twists arrive so late in the film, that a lot of bored viewers might stop watching the movie before getting to the film’s shock-intended conclusion.

Magnet Releasing released “Amulet” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on July 24, 2020.

Review: ‘Blue Story,’ starring Stephen Odubola and Micheal Ward

May 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Micheal Ward and Stephen Odubola in “Blue Story” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Blue Story”

Directed by Rapman

Culture Representation: Taking place in southeast London, the drama “Blue Story” has an almost all-black cast representing the working-class and criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: Two longtime best friends from school end up becoming bitter enemies in a gang war.

Culture Audience: “Blue Story” will appeal mostly to people who like gangster stories to have a high level of emotional drama as motivation for the brutal violence.

Stephen Odubola (center) and Khali Best (far right) in “Blue Story” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Movies about black gang members have primarily been the domain of American filmmakers, but the British film “Blue Story” (written and directed by Rapman) takes an unflinching look at gangster life from the perspective of young black men living in southeast London. Although there are many similarities in how black gangs are portrayed in American and British films, there are some noticeable differences. For starters, there’s less use of the “n” word in British films. And because British police do not carry guns, tales of black men being gunned down by police are far less prevalent in the United Kingdom as they are in the Untied States.

At the heart of “Blue Story” is the relationship between Timmy (played as teenager and adult by Stephen Odubola) and Marco (played as a teenager and adult by Micheal Ward), who first meet when they are 11 years old. Timmy is a “good boy” from Lewisham who has reluctantly transferred to a school in Peckham called Borough High. His mother has enrolled him in the school because she thinks it’s a better academic environment for him and because she wants Timmy to get away from a friend called Kiron, whom she thinks is a bad influence on Timmy.

On his first day at his new school, Timmy is rescued from a schoolyard fight by “bad boy” Marco, who steps in to protect Timmy. It begins a friendship that’s so close that Marco and Timmy are practically inseparable and they have a brotherly bond. By the time they are teenagers, Timmy is doing well academically, but Marco is a delinquent student who’s in danger of being expelled for failing grades. Timmy offers to help by doing Marco’s homework for him.

There’s a fierce rivalry between the gangs of Lewisham and Peckham (the movie portrays a lot of this real-life tension), which often results in violence with guns, knives and other weapons. Timmy (who’s an only child) and Marco frequently encounter Peckham gang members when they’re close by their school. Peckham is often referred to by the nicknames Vietnarm, Pecknarm or Narm, because of the war-like violence in the area. Timmy’s loyalty is constantly questioned by these gang members, who are suspicious since he doesn’t live in the area, but Marco is usually there to step in and protect Timmy from being attacked.

Two other boys who hang out with Timmy and Marco are bratty Dwayne (played by Rohan Nedd) and plus-sized Hakeem (played by Kadeem Ramsay), who live on the edge of gang activity. They aren’t Peckham gang members, but they do what they can to make it look like they’re on the gang members’ side, when push comes to shove.

However, Marco has real connections to the Peckham gang: His older brother Switcher (played by Eric Kofi-Abrefa) is a high-ranking member of the gang, which gives Marco and his friends a certain level of protection (or danger), depending on which gang territory they’re in at at the time. A protégé of an experienced and influential gang member is called a “younger.” Marco hasn’t become a full-fledged gang member yet, but he’s considered to be Switcher’s inevitable “younger.”

Although there is a constant threat of gang violence, the teenagers are also preoccupied with dating. Timmy has a crush on a fellow student named Leah (played by Karla-Simone Spence), but so does Dwayne. However, Dwayne sees Leah as more of a sexual conquest, while Timmy wants to have a real romance with Leah. Timmy’s friends tease him about his shy and romantic nature, but he takes the taunting all in good stride.

When Leah invites the four friends to a house party that she’s hosting, they all eagerly accept the invitation. Dwayne makes the first moves on Leah at the party, but she’s more interested in Timmy, and she asks him to dance. They have an instant connection, which leads to them dating and falling deeply in love with each other.

Around this time, Timmy runs into his former school friend Kiron (played by Khali Best), who now goes by the street name Killy. Timmy and Killy are happy to see each other, but Killy is part of the rival gang that clashes with Switcher’s gang. Marco is very suspicious and uncomfortable with Timmy’s friendliness to Killy, but Timmy swears his undying loyalty to Marco. Timmy tells Marco that he’s only nice to Killy because Timmy and Killy knew each other when they were kids. But that was in the past, and Timmy reassures Marco that Marco is still his best friend.

Meanwhile, a vicious gang fight breaks out between Switcher’s gang and the rival gang, which is led by a ruthless thug named Madder (played by Junior Afolabi Salokun). During the fight, Switcher deliberately guns down someone in Madder’s gang named Gyalis (played by Andre Dwayne), who was Madder’s younger. In a panic, Switcher goes back home and asks Marco to be his alibi. The murder of Gyalis sets off a chain of events that leads to violent acts of revenge, more tragedy, and the souring of Timmy and Marco’s longtime friendship.

In an overabundance of movies and TV shows that portray black men as criminals, “Blue Story” sets itself apart by having well-developed characters and believable acting that give this story more depth than the run-of-the-mill gangster film. The motivations for the revenge violence in this story isn’t about greed but more about personal loyalties, however misguided those loyalties might be.

“Blue Story” is the feature-film directorial debut of Rapman (whose real name is Andrew Onwubolu), who shows that he has talent for weaving together a cohesive story involving various characters caught up in dangerous and complex situations. “Blue Story” was clearly influenced by writer/director John Singleton’s 1991 debut film “Boyz N the Hood” (set in South Central Los Angeles), another coming-of-age drama about young black men affected by gang violence. Although “Blue Story” won’t be an Oscar-nominated classic like “Boyz N the Hood,” it compellingly addresses the deep-rooted problems behind gang violence in London.

“Blue Story” also has a unique narration technique, by having Rapman occasionally appear on screen to rap some of the movie’s plot. (Before he became a movie director, Rapman was also a rapper who conceived and directed the three-part YouTube musical drama series “Shiro’s Story,” which led to him making “Blue Story.”) This one-man rap chorus doesn’t come across as an annoying gimmick, mostly because the lyrics are on point, and Rapman’s screen time only takes up a few minutes of the movie.

There are some elements of “Blue Story” that are like a soap opera—not in a overly melodramatic way or in a way that’s too exploitative, but in a way that shows that the cycle of gang violence will keep going as long as revenge is a motivation. Yes, the violence is brutal, but the message of the movie is that gang culture is built on a false sense of pride and nobility. After all, there’s nothing noble about being locked up in prison or dying for crimes that end up destroying friendships and lives.

Paramount Pictures/Paramount Home Entertainment released “Blue Story” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on May 5, 2020. The film was already released in the U.K. in 2019.

2020 BAFTA Film Awards: ‘1917’ is the top winner

February 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

With seven prizes, including Best Film and Outstanding British Film, the World War I drama “1917” was the top winner at the 73rd annual British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, which were presented at Royal Albert Hall in London on February 2, 2020. Graham Norton hosted the show, which was broadcast exclusively on BBC One and BBC One HD in the United Kingdom and in other major territories around the world. BBC America had the U.S. telecast of the show.

“1917,” directed by Sam Mendes, also garnered the BAFTA Awards for Best Director (for Sam Mendes), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound and Best Special Visual Effects.

Joaquin Phoenix, who won Best Actor for “Joker,” used his acceptance speech as a platform to called out industry racism and urge people in the industry to be more inclusive of people of color. The BAFTAs this year faced immense backlash for having only white people nominated in the categories for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Phoenix said in his speech: “I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege. I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry, and in ways that we benefit from.

He added, “This is not a self-righteous condemnation because I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of the problem. I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive, but I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural.  We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. I think it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it. So that’s on us.”

“Joker” also won the prizes for Best Original Score and Best Casting, which is a new BAFTA category.

Other actors who won BAFTAs this year were Renée Zellweger of “Judy” (Best Actress); Brad Pitt of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Best Supporting Actor); Laura Dern of “Marriage Story” (Best Supporting Actress); and Micheal Ward (EE Rising Star Award).

Besides “1917” and “Joker,” the other film that won multiple BAFTAs this year was the South Korean drama “Parasite,” which won two BAFTAs: Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Not in the English Language.

Films that received several BAFTA  nominations but ultimately did not win any of the awards were “The Irishman” (10 nods) “The Two Popes” (five nods) and “Rocketman” (four nods). Eligible movies were those released in the United Kingdom in 2019.

NOTE: “Ford v Ferrari” is titled “Le Mans ’66” is the U.K.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2020 BAFTA Awards:

*=winner

Best Film

“1917”*
“The Irishman”
“Joker”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“Parasite”

Outstanding British Film

“1917”*
“Bait”
“For Sama”
“Rocketman”
“Sorry We Missed You”
“The Two Popes”

Best Director

Sam Mendes (“1917”)*
Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”)
Todd Phillips (“Joker”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”)

Leading Actress

Jessie Buckley (“Wild Rose”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”)
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)*

Leading Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)*
Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”)
Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”)

Supporting Actor

Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”)
Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”)
Al Pacino (“The Irishman”)
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”)*

Supporting Actress

Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)*
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)
Margot Robbie (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Adapted Screenplay

Steven Zaillian (“The Irishman”)
Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)*
Todd Phillips, Scott Silver (“Joker”)
Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”)
Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”)

Original Screenplay

Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman (“Booksmart”)
Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”)
Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Han Jin Won, Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”)*

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer

Mark Jenkin, Kate Byers, Linn Waite (“Bait”)*
Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts (“For Sama”)*
Alex Holmes (“Maiden”)
Harry Wootliff (“Only You”)
Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio (“Retablo”)

Original Score

Thomas Newman (“1917”)
Michael Giacchino (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Hildur Guđnadóttir (“Joker”)*
Alexandre Desplat (“Little Women”)
John Williams (“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)

Cinematography

Roger Deakins (“1917”)*
Rodrigo Prieto (“The Irishman”)
Lawrence Sher (“Joker”)
Phedon Papamichael (“Le Mans ’66”)
Jarin Blaschke (“The Lighthouse”)

EE Rising Star Award (public vote)

Awkwafina
Kaitlyn Dever
Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Jack Lowden
Micheal Ward*

Film Not in the English Language

Lulu Wang, Daniele Melia (“The Farewell”)
Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts (“For Sama”)
Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar (“Pain and Glory”)
Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”)*
Céline Sciamma, Bénédicte Couvreur (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”)

Documentary

Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert (“American Factory”)
Todd Douglas Miller (“Apollo 11”)
Asif Kapadia (“Diego Maradona”)
Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts (“For Sama”)*
Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim (“The Great Hack”)

Animated Film

Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho (“Frozen 2”)
Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh (“Klaus”)*
Will Becher, Richard Phelan, Paul Kewley (“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”)
Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen (“Toy Story 4”)

Casting

Shayna Markowitz (“Joker”)*
Douglas Aibel, Francine Maisler (“Marriage Story”)
Victoria Thomas (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Sarah Crowe (“The Personal History of David Copperfield”)
Nina Gold (“The Two Popes”)

Editing

Thelma Schoonmaker (“The Irishman”)
Tom Eagles (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Jeff Groth (“Joker”)
Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker (“Le Mans ’66”)*
Fred Raskin (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Production Design

Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales (“1917”)*
Bob Shaw, Regina Graves (“The Irishman”)
Ra Vincent, Nora Sopková (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Mark Friedberg, Kris Moran (“Joker”)
Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Costume Design

Christopher Peterson, Sandy Powell (“The Irishman”)
Mayes C. Rubeo (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Jany Temime (“Judy”)
Jacqueline Durran (“Little Women”)*
Arianne Phillips (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Makeup and Hair

Naomi Donne (“1917”)
Vivian Baker, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan (“Bombshell”)*
Kay Georgiou, Nicki Ledermann (“Joker”)
Jeremy Woodhead (“Judy”)
Lizzie Yianni Georgiou (“Rocketman”)

Sound

Scott Millan, Oliver Tarney, Rachael Tate, Mark Taylor, Stuart Wilson (“1917”)*
Tod Maitland, Alan Robert Murray, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic (“Joker”)
David Giammarco, Paul Massey, Steven A. Morrow, Donald Sylvester (“Le Mans ’66”)
Matthew Collinge, John Hayes, Mike Prestwood Smith, Danny Sheehan (“Rocketman”)
David Acord, Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, Stuart Wilson, Matthew Wood (“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)

Special Visual Effects

Greg Butler, Guillaume Rocheron, Dominic Tuohy (“1917”)*
Dan Deleeuw, Dan Sudick (“Avengers: Endgame”)
Leandro Estebecorena, Stephane Grabli, Pablo Helman (“The Irishman”)
Andrew R. Jones, Robert Legato, Elliot Newman, Adam Valdez (“The Lion King”)
Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh, Neal Scanlan, Dominic Tuohy (“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)

British Short Animation

Maryam Mohajer (“Grandad Was a Romantic”)*
Kathrin Steinbacher (“In Her Boots”)
Naaman Azhari, Lilia Laurel (“The Magic Boat”)

British Short Film

Myriam Raja, Nathanael Baring (“Azaar”)
Hector Dockrill, Harri Kamalanathan, Benedict Turnbull, Laura Dockrill (“Goldfish”)
Sasha Rainbow, Rosalind Croad (“Kamali”)
Carol Dysinger, Elena Andreicheva (“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl”)*
Lena Headey, Anthony Fitzgerald (“The Trap”)